“Possession is 9/10…”

When we hear the word “possession,” we likely recall the movie “The Exorcist.” Which, by the way, happened at an Alexian Brothers Hospital in St. Louis. And it was a young boy but that’s another topic.

We may also think that possession means being kept, having no control over our lives, being a puppet. Or, it’s all the stuff in our homes that uses the same word. St. Paul uses it as a goal. To paraphrase him, “I haven’t acquired it yet, but I’m working on it. It’s a work in progress.” He calls his goal a “pursuit.”

Every Lenten season calls us to consciously be aware of our pursuit of being possessed by the One who created us. Yet, you’d think that the potter created a beautiful piece of pottery, you and me, so what’s there to possess? Potter, pottery. Pottery, potter! Well, you see, We pottery pieces have a sad tendency of bumping into things, causing cracks and niches here and there. What was created by the Potter as a whole has those tendencies of ours of piecemealing our one piece. Some pieces of us desiring and that piece of ours over there wants and these smaller, but Godly pieces living within us is needs. We act like we’re made out of cement instead of the clay that we all indeed are. The clay pots that all of us are is very fragile, heavily delicate, and genuinely breakable.

Isaiah comes to our rescue, as he often can, and tells us what Confession is all about. “Remember not the events of the past,” he writes, “the things of long ago consider not.” Because, you know, Confession reviews our past with bright eyes firmly planted on the next day and the day after that. Isaiah says, “Desert? Forget about it; God will give you “‘rivers.’”

But back to St. Paul. In similar words to Isaiah, “I for my part do not consider myself to have taken possession. Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead.” Thank you, St. Paul. There’s that pursuit again. I would have said “looking forward,” but Paul uses a stronger verb – straining to look forward. Do we need new glasses? Wasn’t cataract surgery enough?

As usual, Jesus saves the day with his finger writing hidden messages in the sand. Addressed to those around him. What did he write? Speculations abound. What could Jesus write for you and me to continue our straining pursuit to be fully possessed by our loving and merciful God?

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“JC & “Lil’ Petey”

Is our Gospel story today about the relationship between Jesus and Peter? Or is this a story about our living the life of Peter or, worse ever, us pretending to be Jesus?

Ummm. I wonder.

Jesus lovingly asks, “Peter, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you. What a foolish question to ask me.”

“I recognize you,” says the courtyard worker. “You were with him!” Fishing for a quick answer, Peter says, “Foolish woman, get your glasses fixed; there’s no way I know that guy.”

“Heck, if he can walk on water, then why can’t I? Ooops, it’s kinda deep here. Oh no!”

Jesus affectionally re-asks, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter responds, “Well, we go again, two for two, you know I love you. Is the pope Catholic?”

Courtyard Lady doesn’t give up so easily. “I saw you walking with him all over town!” Peter replies, “Cataracts can be a severe condition – blurred vision, seeing starbursts while riding a donkey. I know an excellent ophthalmologist in Jerusalem; just mention my name. He accepts most HMOs.

Questioning Jesus asks Peter, “Who do people say that I am?” Peter insightfully and faithfully says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”

Peter also says, “Just look at all the fish we caught.” Apostle John said, ‘It’s the Lord out there.’ Peter jumps into the water in his underwear. He was eagerly wanting and willing to connect capturing fish in a net with his relationship with Jesus.

Courtyard Lady, Act Three. “I swear on my ancestors that you are the one seen with him. The hair and the beard. My eyes are fine.” Peter quickly replies, Hey, look, lady, in this neck of the woods, especially at night, we all look the same; now lay off of me.”

Jesus says to Peter after declaring him the “Christ, “Well said…for this has not been revealed to everyone,” Peter then draws Jesus aside and whispers in a Mafia-sounding voice, “I got you covered. Just listen to me. You know JC, now that I know what the “C” stands for can I call you “JC?” Now that we all know that you are the “Christ,” can’t’ we just skip this whole suffering stuff and start building up in Rome? I got an agent who can give us a great deal on prime Italian property – did I mention Caesar-tax-free.” Jesus replies, “Oh, Lil’ Petey, oh Lil’ Petey,” followed by a sentence we all know by heart, “Get behind me, Satan.”

Jesus, Act Three. “Simon, son of John, do you love me? Distressed Peter, only to now repeat for the third time and then later contradict for the same number of times in the courtyard, says, “You know that I love you.”

When do we glibly become “JC” as though we become Jesus the Christ? “JC” in our pretentious pretendings. “Lil’ Petey” is who we all live in the bright and guiding light of Jesus the Christ.

Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep. Feed my sheep. Feed my lambs.

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Easter: “Sharing the Light”

Just imagine. Your boss told you that you have that new position that you’ve been working toward. Just Imagine. You just got engaged to be married. Just imagine. Those test results came back negative. Just Imagine. You walk out of the hospital after your spouse dies. One more – You won the Publishers Clearing House grand prize soon to be taking a picture of yourself holding a check taller than you in front of your house.

You’re home now and find no one around to share your news. Your good or sad news. I guess it’s okay if you’re Simon and Garfunkel’s “I am a rock, I am an island” or Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again, Naturally.” However, it’s a pretty gloomy night in your home when there’s no one to share. Sharing your good news lifts up your light and lights up another’s. That same light applies to distressing news. Unshared, it feels like it’s not real; it never happened; it’s not valid until it’s shared. Trust me on this. My two cats only want food; my good or sad news is entirely mine.

Easter is never mine but ours. It’s a collective season. Lent has the reputation of being a solo trip, whether that’s true or not, but Easter is definitely a journey we all travel together.

But I gave examples of “others toward me,” how about “me toward others?”The light of Easter is mutually witnessed through everyone’s everyday lives. A sincere welcoming smile and that includes your eyes. (The eyes always tell so much more than stretched lips.) Asking that flippant opening question, “How are you?” but, this time, waiting for a complete answer. Unlike the waitress walking past your table who asks, “How’s everything?” but never stops, and you yell, “It sucks,” but she’s three tables beyond you. A firm handshake. (Remember, a two-handed handshake only means that you’re running for public office or looking for a handout.) Easter is expressing meaningful, joyful words of encouragement, words of hope. Not in a pollyanna way but in a risen-Christ way. Because that’s who we’ve become because of this night, because of His sacrifice.

You should know by now that I love words. Well, it occurred to me writing this that adding “en” to the beginning and end of the word “light” means that you’ve received an even greater knowledge or insight about yourself or about another person. A revelation to be shared, whether about a situation, offering a bigger picture view to a predicament, or addressing a perplexing problem. In other words, a deeper understanding.

That is the Easter’s spirit and gift to us all. You know, we all sadly call it a day, as if it has a twenty-four window, and then on Monday, we call it a season for a couple of weeks. And then it’s on to the next holiday. I think we ought to make it our journey. I said earlier, “a journey we all travel together.”

Playing “Tug of War” when we’re young is one fun thing, but playing the same game with God can be quite troubling. (Take out the word “quite.”)

One more song reference. It’s the Beatles singing, “Hello, Goodbye.” Palm Sunday has its glorious “Hello, Lord, Hello Lord” (“Hallelujah,” in church lingo). Good Friday has its “Goodbye God, Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and those glorious angels,” with us giving in, giving up, and caving into our faults, foibles, and failings. You know what I mean; it occurs every single day. Are those three “f” words holding us down? They’re never told to anyone. Cue “Simon and Garfunkel” once more? Easter is also about sharing those three “f’s,” asking for others’ encouragement, prayers, and support.

Here are three more “f” words. How about three “f” words that are proudly and sincerely living within ourselves and then shared, like a virus, with all we meet: faith, fidelity, and fruitfulness. If you noticed, those three “f” words are all about growth rooted in the seeds of His sacrifice. Tonight it surely has the Resurrected Christ singing to us and every day afterward, “I don’t know why you say ‘goodbye,’ [when] I say ‘hello.” That’s the miracle of this night. That’s the miracle of our lives to be lived in God’s bright light every day.

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Holy Thursday, “Passing the Light”

Please excuse my bluntness. I don’t know if it’s sad news or good news. Fr. Joe is shrinking. I know, it’s true. “Two inches” last year, he told me. It could be more even as I speak. I’m down 3/4 of an inch in my previous physical, so I have some catching up to do. He gave me this white vestment because it didn’t fit him anymore. Thanks, Fr. Joe.

And here we are tonight, at the table of Our Lord. I mean that literally. Here we are gathered at the table of Our Lord. He is our Passover tonight. He is here to Pass Over to us what he received from His Father. His passion, death, and resurrection are his Passover given freely. He then Passes Over to us the baton of His Body like the track runner who reaches out, hoping not to drop it when handed off to the next runner. That next person is waiting, anxious and nervous but willing to firmly grab it away from the runner who ran his course.

It cannot be extinguished no matter how often we try during our trials or by others attempting to quench it from us. The tiniest of it, it holds on dearly with the hopeful enveloping that it can become. It still burns, especially in that Ukrainian chaos or on those sleepless nights of yours and mine. Ever so slowly burning. It is still active and alive.

The “it” is light. Light, for us, in all its Christian forms. It is the light of love. It is the light that Jesus passes over to us and then requests that we pass it on to others. The light of love. Thomas Merton wrote, “The gift of love is the gift of the power and the capacity to love, and, therefore, to give love with full effect is also to receive it. So, love can only be kept by being given away, and it can only be given perfectly when it is also received.” So, thanks again, Fr. Joe; I like it a lot.

So, what does Jesus say to us tonight? “Take this all of you; I’ll loan it to you.” No. Jesus says to us tonight, “Here, borrow it from me until I return.” Nope. Jesus says to us tonight, “Hold onto it for a while.” Enough of that “it” stuff. The “it” said by Him is His body and blood. The “it” said by Him to us is passing the light of His light to become our light living through Him. What a profound invitation. Or, better yet, what a profound challenge.

Jesus did His job. That’s the Last Supper; that’s Holy Thursday. Jesus passes over for us to pass on. He says at the Ascension in different words, “Get out there and baptize everyone you meet in my name, in my father’s name, along with the gentle power of the Holy Spirit.”

We tend to jump to the resurrection. But we don’t know about that yet, just like his disciples. Tonight is purely the giving of Jesus, who, while innocent, shrinks himself by dying a criminal’s death for others to become enlightened and grow into God’s light of love. So we can “pass on” because of His “Passover.”

Once more, Thomas Merton. “The truth I must love in my brother [and sister] is God Himself, living in [others]. I must see the life of the Spirit of God breathing in [others]. And I can only discern and follow that mysterious life by the action of the same Holy Spirit living and acting in the depths of my own heart.”

At a recent gathering of priests of all ages, I was taken back seeing those newly ordained priests who looked like they had just graduated eighth grade. I saw the youth and eagerness in their lighted eyes.

Fr. Joe, your white vestment fitted you well for as many years as I hope to, at least, match. I like it. I hope to find an eighth-grader who can one day also wear it.

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Good Friday, “The Fledgling Flame”

It flickers back and forth, ever so slowly so as to not extinguish itself. The wax surrounding it allows the tiny flame to stay lit. A cold December night on my kitchen table rests my tiny but still my burning flame.

“It’s not my fault,” says Peter warming his hands in the courtyard fire just like Pilate washed his in the palace. Peter says, “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you; what did you say that guy’s name is?”

My apartment is still heated; I can’t rely on that tiny, little flame to flame forth a comfortable, warm winter home. Heck, I bet if I quickly stood up right now, it’d go out!

“Is he dead yet?”

“There’s dramatic climate change affecting the next generation,” says one group to the disagreeing other.

Forget what I just said about my tiny candle. I stood up, and it didn’t go out.

Matthew says, “It’s not my fault. I still have my license; tax collecting was very rewarding for me. Hell, I can return and retire in a few years!”

My kitchen candle continues its flickering, ever so slowly and softly, tirelessly trying to keep itself alive, aflame. The wax surrounding my tiny flame keeps it alive. Yet, I think that the wax that keeps it alive can also drown the love. I don’t understand what I just said but I think there’s something significance to it.

“Is he still breathing? Is it almost finally over?”

“I still say the last presidential election was rigged? End of discussion,” says one. “It doesn’t appear so,” says another.

My light’s oil appears to be going down. The flame is still seen, but I’m not sure I trust it. It seems too shaky to be trusted. What happens when the oil runs out?

“Is He dead yet? It’s been one hour. How long can he last?”

“Critical Race Theory? Wrong,” says one. “No, it’s okay, really,” says another.

Pilate said, “Thank goodness I’m not elected because it certainly is not my fault. I set Anthony Quinn free. What more do they want from me! It’s their fault, don’t blame me.”

In the 1940’s movies, Bette Davis would approach her lover with a cigarette and cooly ask, “Got a light?” Then they’d both kiss…oh wait…they didn’t kiss. They only exchanged smoke.” There is no kiss. Is that who we are on this sorriest of days hoping when Jesus no longer prods and propels us. Thankfully, we don’t need him to guide us toward our tomorrows. Each of us knows what needs to be done. Each of us, singularly, knows what needs to be done. My tiny kitchen flame just flinched as I typed that last sentence.

“It’s not my fault, says the elder. It’s that guy at that Bethesda pool who blabbed the whole thing to those big guys. And, you’ve got to be kidding; who could have fed all those men with small portions of food. Plus, I don’t like fish, and they didn’t even count the women?”

“It’s 2:15, and he’s still alive? How does that happen?

I hope my kitchen flame glows a while longer.

Judas said, “I wanted eighty, but they only gave me thirty of those silvers. Something about the present market value for someone claiming to be the ‘Son of God.’ And, after taxes and Rome’s VAT – I got $18.75 – American. It’s not my fault this guy stiffed me out of fifty. I didn’t kiss him. I smoked him. You know, I liked him, but sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do and then move on.”

“Which cable channels do you watch? What newspapers do you read?” Is that what defines us in 2022? Centuries-old questions with new technology.

“Is He dead yet? It’s almost 2:30?” “I gotta home and get supper ready.” “I need to pick up my kids from school.” “If I knew it would take this long, I would’ve stayed home.”

A ray of light, we’re told. An eternal beam of light we’d like to believe. His shining light we so often selfishly attempt to extinguish. His glowing, bright light that now can only be kept radiant and bright through our words and deeds.

“Whew, that was close. I thought he might have survived. Thank goodness He’s finally dead.”

Wow. My little kitchen flame is still burning away as I write this. Go figure. The timeless love of Jesus Christ and those who came before us and for all of us gathered here today and for those for whom we pass on a light – even a tiny light.

We ask ourselves on this Good Friday. What’s so ‘good’ about it? Good that we’re finally in control and in charge? Or “good” for what was sacrificed for us to become the Body of Christ? “Do we now become Jesus in our comfortable and contentious daily lives because we successfully killed the real one? Or, do wait and wonder what comes next, just like disciples? Is there even a “next.” What does “next” mean?

It’s now 3:15. Earthquakes were heard… Darkness covers the earth, and it still covers our lives. The wholeness of the sacred temple curtain is no longer what God promised nor intended.

Torn and separated is an act of religious rejection. Perpetuating division and divisiveness in all parts of our lives. Political and religious. Never in polite conversation, we’re told to talk about those two – only those two most important human topics instead of the safer two’s: Brewers or Packers. (And, we still disagree about those two so why not those previous critically important two’s?) Torn in half. “Torn in half,” Scripture recorded centuries ago. What is our present behavior recording? Can that curtain be sown together again? Or, do those two parts of one, whole curtain simply but stupidly flap away from each other with their passing winds.

Dare we ask what Leonard Cohen sings, “Show me the place, help me roll away the stone. Show me the place where the word became man. Show me the place where the suffering began.

Are we keeping that every-flickering flame alive? Or did the wax meant to keep the -Christ-love alive or was it to drown away the Christ-like flame?

Cohen again. “Magnified, sanctified by the Holy Name. Vilified, crucified in the human frame. A million candles burning for the help that never came. ‘Here I am, here I am.’ I’m ready, my Lord.”

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“Transfiguration,” Jesus’ and Ours

Life in all its forms, shapes, and sizes is all about identity. No, it’s not; it’s all about recognition. Please wait a minute; it’s all about the more than you thought you could be.

On second thought, it’s always about all three. Identity, recognition, more of you.

After those forty-food-less days in the desert, along with Mr. Devil’s three stupid teasings, Jesus just may have realized what was unfolding in his life.

You all know about your aging mom or dad falling, and suddenly you become the parent to your parent. Anyone? Now, let’s talk about identity, recognition, more of you than you thought possible.

How about a third-grader who just cannot say his last name. Everyone in the class laughed away. He then becomes a radio announcer for many years and a Catholic priest. And I still have trouble saying my full name.

If only the purely human part of Jesus knew what was to be shown to him at the top of that mountain, he’d surely run downhill. However, with the divine part of Jesus presented and unveiled to him standing when between the greatest prophet and the greatest traveler, capped off with even more drama by a talking cloud – then I kinda think Jesus got the hint. There’s identity, recognition, and the more of his life.

I’ve mentioned before the most asked question of Jesus is not whether you’re going to heaven or not. Or, how many times you missed weekend Mass. The most asked question of Jesus is, “Who are you?” Who are you to me? Who am I to you? Who am I with you? Just think of all the identities we can place upon the Son of God.

But, what if? What if? Jesus as an adult. Finds a steady job as a carpenter, his father teaches him well. Joins a union with decent pay. Finds a good wife, couple of kids, Jesus, Jr., and MaryAnn; retire at fifty-five with a substantial pension and solid investments. Kids are now on their own, and Jesus and the misses become Arizona snowbirds between November through March. They return for Easter. Oh, wait. There is no Easter. Ahhh. Where’s Frank Sinatra singing, “Oh, the good life..”

Identity, recognition. A boy becomes a man, then dad, then grand, and sometimes even reaching great added before his name. I’m a freshly ordained priest, and my dad keeps calling me “Father.” I said to him, “We can’t keep doing this Dad. I’m Joe.” (“Hi Father. Oh, hi Father…”)

Shouldn’t have climbed that mountain, Jesus. Could’ve stayed in Arizona. That way, there’d be no crucifixion and resurrection. We wouldn’t need to come to this old church week after week. We’d merely be helpless, hopeless, reckless people. People would never, ever have heard about identity, recognition, and becoming more than they ever imagined themselves to be.

You’re having a remarkable career with upcoming promotions in the mix, and you have a “rare” form of cancer. (Why does someone always get a “rare” form of cancer instead of the ordinary kind!) You slowly become a proud cancer survivor, and you let many people know about it! Identity. Recognition.

The suffering people of Ukraine. Always in our prayers until our prayers increase with the next evening’s news. Because of their beautiful independence, they are experiencing significant interdependence. Perhaps with identities and recognitions changed forever and so much more demanded of them. And, because of this crisis, the whole wide world has learned so much more about interdependence than we ever thought possible. (McDonald’s is closed in Russia!)

All those examples and those about Jesus show us becoming more than we are or, better yet, much more than we thought we could be. That’s transfiguration. That’s a vibrant, living Catholic faith. That’s Jesus climbing up that mountain alongside his climbing companions becoming for us all the living Christ.

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Solo Man?

Bruce Willis captures us in his one-person movies. I’ve watched each of his three, three times. He successfully embarrasses by foiling trained professional good-guys while outwitting the trained bad professionals and killing numerous of them until he finally meets the head bad guy and does him “in” to a grand finale. In one installment, to show off how invincible he is, he does all this damage barefoot with surrounding glass surrounding the floors.

That spaghetti-cowboy introduced me to this theme of “I’m the savior” in films. (He’s also the former mayor of Carmel, CA.) If he ever dies, “Make My Day” ought to be on his gravestone like any of these one-man heroes death is never the movies’ choice. Add to our solo heroes besides Willis is Stallone, Lundgren, Butler, Elba, Diesel, Cruise, (I’m not done yet) Cage, Norris, McQueen, Damon, Walberg, (two more) Seagal and Crowe. And, that’s a partial list. Let’s add Charles Bronson, just to show my age. What great times for us guys to watch movies!

“Shaken, not stirred” brings out a list of seven of them playing what’s now called an “iconic” role. An icon means pointing to something deeper. There’s nothing iconic about a one-man show. How sad. (And, David Niven as Bond? You’re kidding!) Uma, a female, tried it in a two-part film, but I refuse to watch them.

You may dismiss my reflection because we all know better. Yet, do we? We may think “it’s just a movie” but its solitary portrayals can seep into our emotions and onto our behaviors. A bit of Willis can easily emerge while driving on 76th Street or during a heated encounter. We become the hero of our own story which, dismally, is not the community of faith Christ lived and witnessed for us. And, continues to witness for us through his Dad’s graces.

The “Body of Christ?” Ummm. Are we collectively working together, or are we, singling ourselves as individual individuals, acting out a fictional character that’s been shown and taught to us constantly on that silver screen? Attempting to live out that alienating American myth of a false individualism.

Is the “Body of Christ” lived during each moment of our lives or is it absorbing two hours watching a “guy” violently solve all the world’s problems – and doing it all by himself?

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Black History Month

To honor “them,” our country gave “them” the shortest month of the year. Wouldn’t December have been a better choice to reject our ancestor’s sins of the past and our present, more subtle ways, in thinking and acting around “them?”

Amazingly, in one of the most segregated cities in the country (Milwaukee, WI,) we presently have one of “them” as our acting mayor, police chief, sheriff, and county executive. Go, figure! Where did we go right for a change? Are we the generation to finally take those bedsheets off our heads? Hiding our faces from faces we do not know but only hear the worst about “them?”

“They’ve” complimented me more about what I’m wearing than the lighter bunch. I like that. Years ago, after parking, I was walking to St. Joseph’s Hospital to visit a parishioner. Four of “them” were walking behind me. Do I walk faster? Do I move my wallet from the back to the front? Do I run? They continued on my path to the hospital entrance and entered the elevator. “How ya’ doing,” one of “them” says to me and said to me in a delivery that I find “cool.” “Great,” says the bland lighter-skinned priest with that bland one-word response. “Four against one?” some may ask. Or, five healthy guys anxious to see a sick relative or parishioner in anxious pain?

My wallet never moved but I was moved about my silly fears. TV-driven trepidations? Was it my small-town experience of never meeting one of “them” until high school? I don’t know. Is it powerfully and subtlety ingrained without my knowledge or first-hand understanding.

“They’ve” got the shortest month of the year for us to respect the disrespect of centuries of brutal beatings and death that no church bulletin can print. But it happened. And, it is still disguisedly happening. I’ve learned that racism can never be eliminated. It can only be dismantled, one thought and one encounter at a time. It can only be managed by acknowledging that five guys, in an elevator alone, wish to extend prayers and blessings to someone in need.

February isn’t a short month. I strongly believe that it is us who are short.

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Living in Lava?

Around 5 or 6:00 am. you wake up and perk away a strong cup of coffee, coke, or whatever your wakeup beverage may be. Those still drowsy thoughts begin again to repeat themselves into your heart and soul as they have for years and how many unending years. Thoughts like “a barren bush in the desert that enjoys no change of season,” and “a salt and empty earth.”

Hmmm, what a daily, usual, and predictable way to begin a new day preparing for work and life. Hopping in your car you flip around radio stations and catch someone talking about “the kingdom of God belonging to you,” the word “satisfaction” is used to reduce hunger and those weeping tears of yours suddenly turn to laughter.

With that still harboring “barren bush” living within you, you flip to the next station. Again you hear a different voice saying, “rejoice and leap for joy” when accused of honoring the Son of God. You think to yourself, ” Just like Elizabeth’s kid did in her womb upon seeing the Blessed Mother.” (You also think to yourself, “I need a new radio!”)

Another flip brings words of “Behold, your reward will be great in heaven” for living and sharing your faith both within yourself and in the lives of others. Turning the radio off seemed like a good idea but those words – words of life, love, and commitment – continue to sing their way into your heart and soul. Unlike those “saltless” words that so often creep into your head, heart, and soul. Get it!? Words of life “sing,” debilitating words only “creep” themselves to live within a creepy head.

Driving along you pondered if your wakeup beverage just wasn’t strong enough. Your head is now full of hearing words of wonder, joy, and dedication instead of that low life of living without salt, a life that has nothing to share, and a barren life where there is little or no pregnancy of joy, hope, and amazement.

We all know that it’s so much easier living a life of kinda waking up rather than living a full life that is fully awake to our beautiful Catholic faith.

St. Paul provides for us a class in Logic using reason. No resurrection? No Christ. No Christ? Faith is in vain. Those asleep through death? Perished. If only living this earthly life? Pitiable.

Forget about how you wake up still full of sleep wishing for one more hour of it. Take those voices in your head with “a grain of salt;” as little as what remains of salt in your head. And, do you really want to live and stand “in a lava of waste?”

Listen to those mysterious voices on the radio. Listen to their timeless messages timed exactly for our lives here and now. Outside voices that slowly become your voice. Your life. Your beliefs. Your behavior. Voices that speak of purpose and meaning (regardless of your situation or predicament), voices echoing God’s hope for you (not the unknown hope of the future but a hope that gets you to work today and to family and friends), voices that erase saltlessness and being sterile with experiences of fulfilling feelings even if they arrive in only small amounts. The Beatitudes provide us with divinely life-giving words – with all their contradictions -leading to a holiness that is the envy of those still asleep and wading their lives with surrounding lava. The promise of God, Son, and Spirit is to keep us always wide awake and alert for the Lord.

No matter what your morning beverage may be.

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Greatest Virtue? (Sorry, St. Paul)

My apologies to the learned St. Paul but Love is not number on the top three list; Faith Hope and Love. The greatest is not Love. There is no Love without Hope. Faith cannot be uncovered and discovered without Hope living within us first. With Hope on top then our lives are rooted in and through Faith and then freely expressed in and through Love. Please repeat that sentence.
Hope is about an unknown but believing future. Hope is also about our tough unchangeable pasts. Sounds like an oxymoron but that’s us Christians for you. Hope can only be a promising future when we fondly remember and beautifully cherish the memories of goodness and wonders of our lives. That’s the easy part. And, to be the heathliest, it also includes the weakest part of us – sin whether commissioned or omissions. With God’s help, it means forgiving the past. Never forgotten but forgiven.

St. Paul joins the dictionary in getting it wrong with “expectations” and “certain things to happen” as though the second greatest virtue is limited only to our future and not our past. 

Love is the fulfillment of both Faith and Hope. Just think about this, if you will. If you’re making a casserole and you want the result to be a scrumptious meal full of Love then make sure you add two cups of Hope to your crushed ground beef (or to your pasta if a vegetarian). Preheat the oven (that’s called our birth.) Then sit back and bake at 350 for 45 minutes and then see what happens. After cooking, sprinkle the top generously with French Fried Onions representing Faith. There’s your Love on the kitchen table.

There’s a quaint, quiet town outside busy, metropolitan Milwaukee that illustrates “hope” as defined by the dictionary.  Driving through the main street, I’m reminded of a movie set. Everything you see is wonderful, neat and pretty, and great until you park the car and peek behind those stores’ facade. Behind that facade is 2 x 4’s propping up the fake front.  It seems simply shallow. (Cedarburg.) “Putting your best foot forward” may be good advice for a job interview but planting both feet solidly on the ground are the three virtues gifted to us by our three friends (Father, Son, and Spirit).

Sorry virtues Faith and Love, please set aside as we show ourselves that the power of Hope can heal any of the backwards of our lives in order to move our lives humbly and faithfully forward.

When we seek closure or some kind of healing that can never be fully granted because the past is gone, we easily begin to use the word “wish.” “I wish that that memory could fade away from me,” or “I wish healing about that incident or episode that I regret” or “I wish that stupid death didn’t happen.”  “Wishes” are from Walt Disney, “Hope” is the grace from God.

Can’t Hope be broadened without getting the other two virtues upset? Can’t the power of Hope in all of its full maturity and Godly grace and power offer us healing or a softening to those “things” of the past? 

Those mistakes of the past, whatever they may be – sinful or just stupid, have a cute way of haunting and persisting in our minds and behaviors.  Looking blindly toward an unknown future, like that quaint town are feeble attempts to bypass parts of our lives as though they never happened. Forgiven but not forgotten.

Try this example.  If you dent your left driver’s bumper then guess where your next accident will occur. (No one seems to guess it correctly.) Your next accident will be on your left driver’s bumper. Go figure.

The longer we live the more backdrops we have to hold up. Each of our “storefronts” may look clean and neat to those who drive by us but unless we hope our ways toward our backs then we are simply a scene set on a studio lot in a cheap make- believe-movie.

In my healthcare experience, the last ounce of us to release is what? Most people say, “Will” but they’re wrong. It’s the driver of our car. It’s the first of those three marvelous, mysterious virtues that roam around our hearts, souls, and minds every single day.

Driving along, Hope says “Thank you Faith and Love for all you do but you’re sitting in the back seat. Let me do the driving…I know where we’ve been and I know where we’re going.”

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