Simple Advice for Complex People

Matthew 18:21-35

“Peter approached Jesus and asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven time?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.”

thDuring my six months of unemployment before beginning here, I did it only twice. I would look at it and say to myself, “It’s fine. Leave it.” I’d pass it in the afternoon and say to myself, “It’s okay the way it is. Just leave it alone. The night would come, and I’d lie in it again and think to myself, “It’s just the way I left it this morning.” Was I satisfied, content or just bewildered while moving from what I knew to what I didn’t know.

You know, I’ve learned over my years that life is not as rough as we make it out to be. I think people-who-think-rough impose it upon themselves and others for whatever reasons – blame your parents, overtly religious, blame your boss, just being anal, or they just don’t like themselves. Life is not that rough and tumble. (And if you’re over thirty and still blaming your parents, you may wish to find a drug. It’s not their fault!)

At St. Bernard’s last week, I used a sentence that I admired when I wrote it: “If your life is authentic and genuine, then whatever good or bad occurs, you will see it through.” (It even rhymes.)

And it all begins with a simple morning task either before coffee or leaving for work that I failed to do for six months.

These are words from a Navy SEAL Admiral given a commencement speech.
“If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.
Every morning in basic SEAL training, my instructors, who at the time were all Vietnam veterans, would show up in my barracks room and the first thing they would inspect was your bed. If you did it right, the corners would be square, the covers pulled tight, the pillow centered just under the headboard and the extra blanket folded neatly at the foot of the rack — that’s Navy talk for bed.

It was a simple task — mundane at best. But every morning we were required to make our bed to perfection. It seemed a little ridiculous at the time, particularly in light of the fact that were aspiring to be real warriors, tough battle-hardened SEALs, but the wisdom of this simple act has been proven to me many times over.”

Is life that simple or is life that complicated?

I’d say that it all begin as young boy and garbage. “Joe, take the garbage out.” I reply, “Do I have to?” It then moves to Sunday night grade school and the piercing question, “Is your homework done?” It quickly evolves to your first job and your supervisor says, “I have another project for you,” adding to your present incomplete two projects. It then advances into marriage and giving in to an argument with your wife – and again this time saying to yourself without saying it out loud, “Do I have to?”

The beauty of the “making your bed” metaphor is its mundane and ordinariness, allowing to either create or acknowledge that “extra” something living and breathing inside of you.

Jesus’ gospel is obvious when the obvious lies before us. (We wasted all that college money.) The guy simply lays it out there for us as easily as making our bed. The saying, “Make your bed and then lie in it” no longer means only accepting the consequences of your actions but it also means celebrating your successes. Is the gospel about forgiveness or hypocrisy? Forgiveness not given to someone from someone unable to forgive himself. Is it hypocrisy for setting a different standard for everyone else except herself. I bet the servant’s bed was a mess.

We need a Naval SEAL and we need the Son of God to tell us that it’s in the details; it’s in our inner selves, it’s not taught to us but witnessed to us by fellow bed-making fellows, it’s in the silence of our quiet moments when we’re able to confidently say to ourselves and to God, “that my life is authentic and real, I really can handle and deal with whatever life brings to me and to those I love.”

What possibly more could or would God expect of us? We already know the answer. And, the answer is totally no more nor less.

I almost forgot the best part of the Admiral’s commencement about the bed. He said, “And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made — that you made — and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better. If you want to change the world” (if you want to change your world then), “start off by making your bed.”

Books by Fr. Joe Jagodensky, SDS. All available on Amazon.com

“Soulful Muse,” reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture
Living Faith’s Mysteries,” reflections on the Christian seasons
of Advent/Christmas & Lent/Easter
“Spiritual Wonderings and Wanderings,”
reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture

Newest books include:
“Letters From My Cats,”
a collection of letters written by my cats over twenty years
“Bowling Through Life’s Stages with a Christian perspective,”
Bowling as a metaphor for religion and growing up

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The Grace “To Be”

Jesus says, “…Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Matthew 18: 15-20

thTo all of you under forty years of age, I apologize to you in advance but my little ditty today may bore you. Please read the parish bulletin or count the lights in the ceiling.

To the rest of us, Jesus clearly lays out for us what a follower of his looks like.
Since those over forty years are now the only ones listening to me, I have some good and bad news to report to you.

You’re pretty much who you are and will be for your remaining days. Because you see as you get even older – if you’re lucky enough to get there – you will be more of yourself than you are now.

If you’re cranky in the morning now, God bless the wife who has to listen to an intensified version of you in old age. If you hate your job now, steal that stapler today instead of waiting for your elimination or retirement day.

The old adage says, “You are in old age as you’ve always been, only, only…more so.” “More so?”

Whether it’s your humor, a type-A personality or a quiet demeanor – it only increases and expands as your years add up because that’s what we know.

All of the advice and admonitions from Jesus describes a faithful follower and believer in Him and His Father and then mingled with our life stories.

“Our own stories.” What a great phrase. We write our stories every day even if not for publication. Our happy stories are shared at family gatherings and cocktail parties, but there are other remembered stories which are full of the fullness of our lives. Those are safely kept in our minds and most importantly within our souls.

Those sinful parts of our lives are the easy parts to recall whether we confess them or not. Those unspoken parts of our lives that are seldom shared but are remembered… always alive within our souls.

How many times do we think or say to ourselves, “God forgives others but not me.” And, how many times are we proven wrong? Every, single time.

Well, I’ve given you the bad news, now how about the good news.

It’s the gift. A part of the gift is about God’s forgiveness. Another part of the gift is “hitting the mark” and doing the right thing. The greatest part of the gift is about the created you, the grace of God’s creation. Are we now what God created or have we become a creation of ourselves? Is there lots of God in your life or have you filled yourself with, well, too much of yourself?

If the gift of your life is authentic and real, then the all of life’s stuff, good or bad can be handled.

The most humbling part of being a priest? It’s confession. It’s two people connecting God’s mercy to our often broken world. It’s admitting doing the wrong thing while knowing the right.

I believe my job is to remind the penitent of something already known. If the penitent didn’t know the right way, then there’s no point to confession. The “box’ would remain empty. Confession is rediscovering what’s been lost, misplaced or forgotten. It’s both humbling to admit mistakes and humbling to hear them.

Us folks over forty don’t and will not change. (And do we really want to? “I like myself just that way I am!”) We’re pretty much who we’ll be for the rest of lives with perhaps a few modifications thrown in here and there.

But it’s those small things like misplaced frustration or anger, it’s a minor mishap when we believed we were so right or a mindless misstep (a statement we regret saying right after saying it), it’s the small parts of us that bother and causes us second thoughts or a restless sleep.

Those telling sparks are our souls talking to us, souls that contain and hold all of our lives, telling us where we’re goofing up the gift God gave us; as God’s creation.

There’s a new theological word for your religious prayers. “Goofing up.”

“I goofed up big time God, please forgive me.” “I goofed when I convinced myself of some goofy action or belief.” Please use “goofy” in a sentence today before you go to bed, and this new religious word will truly be yours.

The irony (that word is often misused but correctly used here), is that we know better – which is why it’s called “sin.” That’s what prompts and causes us to strive to be the grace-filled people Jesus calls us to be.

When age and time begin to meet, a theologian’s words may assist us in trying to define God’s great gift of grace:

“Sometimes a wave of light breaks into our darkness and it is as though a voice were saying: ‘You are accepted.’ You are accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted. If that happens to us, we experience grace. After such an experience we may not be better than before and we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed. In that moment, grace conquers sin, and reconciliation bridges the gulf of estrangement. And nothing is demanded of this experience, no religious or moral or intellectual presupposition, nothing but acceptance.” Paul Tillich

Okay, those of you under forty can rejoin us now. But just wait! Your time is coming.

Books by Fr. Joe Jagodensky, SDS. All available on Amazon.com

“Soulful Muse,” inspirational reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture
Living Faith’s Mysteries,” inspirational reflections on the Christian seasons
of Advent/Christmas & Lent/Easter
“Spiritual Wonderings and Wanderings,”
inspirational reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture

Newest books include:
“Letters From My Cats,”
a collection of letters written by my cats over twenty years
“Bowling Through Life’s Stages with a Christian perspective,”
Bowling as a metaphor for religion and growing up

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That Hard Word to Say and to Live

“Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly
from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.
Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, ‘God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.’ He turned and said to Peter,’Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.'” Matthew, 16

thThere’s a word that Americans have either forgotten about, ignored or just plain denied. I don’t even know if I’m allowed to say the word.

It’s SSSSSac…See, I can’t even say it. How about a game of Charades – it’s three syllables and starts with “S.” I can’t do the “ear thing,” sounds like” because it’s a word that stands on its own merit.

Guess it yet? It’s sacrifice. There, I got it out. Now it’s out there. Now it cannot be forgotten, ignored or denied. Jesus made sure of that.

And actually, other family and friends make us sure of that as well.

—“Can you help me out this Saturday, you’re the only guy I know with a truck?” Do you then give your Saturday Brewer game tickets to someone else? (Wouldn’t that make it two sacrifices?)

—You see your mom’s phone number on your cell phone and wonder if you’ll burn in hell for letting it ring out while you run out to your favorite restaurant, uninterrupted.

—Your boss says she needs you for another hour, but it’s already 6:00.

You can think of your own examples as quickly as I wrote those down. That’s why it’s such a dirty word in a country that values self-reliance, independence at all costs and “that special person” you think you are. I read several statements from Hurricane Harvey folks saying, “This is supposed to happen somewhere else, not here.” Where is that “someplace else?”

Sacrifice. Jesus showed us how it’s properly done and how many others witness for us sacrifice before and after Jesus.

“I don’t envy parents, I admire them. I have two cats and it’s a cinch at night.”

I don’t envy parents, I admire them. I have two cats, and it’s a cinch at night. Clean the poop and change the water. I’m done. Exhausted, I return to the movie I’m watching. Your daughter finally wants to learn how to tie her shoes, but it’s while the Packers are winning. Do you wait for halftime, a commercial? Or do you take the sucker’s way out and put it on pause?

Sacrifice for you means turning the TV off and your complete attention is focused on this youngster’s task – an achievement to be added to her lifetime of achievements.

The important words here are not only sacrifice but one of two words that follow it: “for” or “to.” Because you see if it’s a sacrifice “to” someone or something, then the attention remains on you. (Very American of you, by the way.) However, if the sacrifice is followed by “for” then you’ve place the attention where Jesus placed it – on the person begin helped, served or assisted.

“Get behind me Satan!”

I love the flight attendant’s announcement if there’s a lack of oxygen on the airplane. “Place the mask on yourself first, then assist the next person.” (“And, if you have two children, please choose the smart child first!”) A sacrifice “for” something or someone is a learned behavior, it is the gift of faith opened and served up for another. If the sacrifice is “to” then it has a hidden agenda; there’s something in it for you. That’s when Jesus tells us what he told to Peter, “Get behind me Satan!”

As a mother might quilt you after college by saying, “I’ve sacrificed a lot to get you to where you are.” Then you can smile back at her because she’s given you a “to” sacrifice. If nothing is ever said, but you both know what mom provided and what you’ve received then the word after sacrifice becomes “for,” because it was given out of love, duty and devotion. (Also good American words that we don’t hear enough of.)

The folks in Houston learned quickly the difference between “to” and “for” sacrifice in their terrible struggle (Hurrican Harvey) to stay living this past week. Our hearts and prayers go out to all of them. I’m confident that the “for” far outweighed the “to” in their heroic sacrifices.

Go ahead, take your mom’s phone call, it’s not the end of the world, and she may even have good news to tell you instead of the bad news you’re anticipating. Use your truck, it’s a gift to be shared with a friend who’s too cheap to call “Two Guys and a Truck.” Work that extra hour, it may both a “to” and a“for” sacrifice for your career.

Jesus could have done a “to” on us about sacrifice, but that would not have brought us here today for prayer. Jesus chose a “for” sacrifice to show us that it’s not about you and it’s not about me – it’s about us – traveling this journey of life together.

Books by Fr. Joe Jagodensky, SDS. All available on Amazon.com

“Soulful Muse,” reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture
Living Faith’s Mysteries,” reflections on the Christian seasons
of Advent/Christmas & Lent/Easter
“Spiritual Wonderings and Wanderings,”
reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture

Newest books include:
“Letters From My Cats,”
a collection of letters written by my cats over twenty years
“Bowling Through Life’s Stages with a Christian perspective,”
Bowling as a metaphor for religion and growing up

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Our Third “Eye”

“May the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ enlighten the eyes of our hearts, that we may know what is the hope that belongs to our call.” Letter to the Ephesians.

angry-cartoon-eyes-hiWe know about the two of them separated by our nose. We also know they age along with our age. (I’m told I’ll need cataract surgery in 2020; the irony seemed to elude my eye doctor.) We put all kinds of things either inside or outside of those two organs to see either the traffic in front of us or the person to the side of us.

I write this now with glasses on the tip of my nose otherwise the words be a blur on my blurry porch along with my two cats. (At least I think my cats are out here now!)

Johnny Nash assured us of clear vision singing that “I can see all obstacles in my way, Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind…” Sounds like a faith statement to me. “I was blind but now I see,” says the slave-porter with a song that even an Alzheimer’s patient can sing.

But can those two – either gray, blue or green – ever truly see behind and beyond the daily news, that person’s convincing but wrong opinion, that car accident that almost makes us cause another. Good vision but poor insight? How often is that the case?

Enter the Biblical, Ephesians passage with a phrase that hit me, the “eye of our heart.” Now we have a third one? We possess a third eye that sees some things better and clearer than the two I scratch every morning?

Just take our “first impression” of someone, their shoes, and hair. The two of ours takes it in and quickly assesses. The third one of our heart may take awhile before a judgment is launched and cemented in our tiny brains. The timing of the heart’s eye is socketed in faith, in experience, in trust, and in patience. What was initially quick to admit or dismiss by our facial two is now cautiously weighed and measured, and always cushioned with a touch of hope and promise by the third.

Our poor hearts. First, they take a beating for beating every moment of every day but now the hearts bear the burden of a third way of viewing and evaluating people and things around us.

I like my two visible green ones although everyone says they’re blue. Perhaps if they looked at me with their “third eye,” they made finally see that mine are green.

angry-cartoon-eyes-hi

Books by Fr. Joe Jagodensky, SDS. All available on Amazon.com

“Soulful Muse,” reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture
Living Faith’s Mysteries,” reflections on the Christian seasons
of Advent/Christmas & Lent/Easter
“Spiritual Wonderings and Wanderings,”
reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture

Newest books include:
“Letters From My Cats,”
a collection of letters written by my cats over twenty years
“Bowling Through Life’s Stages with a Christian perspective,”
Bowling as a metaphor for religion and growing up

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Trees & Us

dd38eb8641ca673862dfff2bb8849bfcThe growing top is only as good as a sturdy bottom. So goes the tree analogy and our evolving lives.

Invisible roots that hold the tree firmly is a family’s ancestors stories told again and again to young minds about folks they will never meet except through a worn black and white photograph.

It’s also the conversations secretly heard by junior ears wearing their “pj’s” in the living room corner as the “adults” converse and laugh. These green-leafed toddlers watch and absorb the tiniest of gestures; that quick wink from grandfather, mom’s tapping foot, the uncle who can’t seem to smoke enough and his wife who can’t seem to drink enough, the silent brother-in-law who married into this tree along with his wife who’s adding up the babysitting tally, the older brother who thinks he’s an adult but only seven years ahead of you, and your baby sister who either dances a few short steps or plays a simple piano ditty.

For better or worse, (aren’t those marriage vows who choose each other?!) they are the roots of your life as your small leaf increases in size and in color.

As a mother cannot leave her child, a tree cannot leave a leaf. The child must learn to leave mother as a leaf must fall from its tree. There is no other way nature meant it. The fallen leaf is adulthood and the mother waits for a telephone call from time to time. And, so it goes.

The super green leaf has adventure after adventure as its color slowly turns amber or brown or gray. This youthful leaf will soon become the ancestor talked about in the past tense.

Winds come from many directions and the discoloring leafs slowly form a circle around themselves. And there they stay, probably sharing stories of their adventures and how they earned the colors they now possess.

Is the circle a retirement home? Is the circle the Monday morning breakfast with like-minded retirees? Or is the circle of aging leafs just the natural rhythm of life. Some aging leafs are at one corner of my porch as I write this but in front of me is a large grouping of leafs that have been blown together.

I don’t know what to make of it but I love the image of tree, leaf and us.

And, so it goes?

dd38eb8641ca673862dfff2bb8849bfc

Books by Fr. Joe Jagodensky, SDS. All available on Amazon.com

“Soulful Muse,” reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture
Living Faith’s Mysteries,” reflections on the Christian seasons
of Advent/Christmas & Lent/Easter
“Spiritual Wonderings and Wanderings,”
reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture

Newest books include:
“Letters From My Cats,”
a collection of letters written by my cats over twenty years
“Bowling Through Life’s Stages with a Christian perspective,”
Bowling as a metaphor for religion and growing up

Posted in Spirituality | 2 Comments

“Thank You,” St. Sebastian Parish

 

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This is my last Mass here in this glorious place. This bi-weekly experience has possibly meant more for me than for you. But I don’t know that for sure.

Months ago I’m walking through the Apple Store at Mayfair and a Sebs parishioner stops me. “Fr. Joe, I missed your sermon last Sunday because I had to work. I asked my husband what you said and he said that it was hard to explain.”

I was missing out with
the younger and family parish experiences.

After years at Alexian Village with older adults, I felt I was losing the younger and family parish experiences. I called Fr. Chuck and asked if only twice a month would be good for the parish and he said, “Yes.” It had to be the 8:00 am Mass because I had a 10:00 am Mass at Alexian.

I’m not a morning person but you woke me up as I walked down that single aisle. As the years worn on, the more awe I felt walking down the aisle of what was about to happen. Alexian Village fulfilled a meaningful niche for me for many years but you folks filled the whole bucket of what Mass means. Families – with far too many kids, oldsters holding their own as best they can, single people and strangers gathered together celebrating this time-honored ritual. Some of them were seen just once to see what it’s like, others from time to time and – how many of you, the regulars.

It was you who brought yourselves to me. Your laughter or…lack of laughter taught me how to speak to you. Your silence showed listening (and that scared me) and your chuckles taught me to “keep it coming.” And, so I did.

Getting two or four young kids dressed up
for an 8:00 a.m. Mass is remarkable…

I don’t know how long I’ve been here – 15 or 16 years is my guess. I don’t know most of your names but I know your faces and it’s the faces that intrigued me the most. Getting two or four young kids dressed up for an 8:00 a.m. Mass is remarkable when I think how my sleepy, single body dropped out of bed on those Sunday mornings.

Catholics wrongly think that “Church”
is that ancient building in Rome…

And why? It’s because of the community we call “Church.” Catholics still think that “Church” is that ancient building in Rome, but you are the Church with your child baptized here and your mom buried here – that’s the proof. You are the Church when challenged with foodless people living in your neighborhood and that distant land in El Salvador whose name took me two years to pronounce correctly. It all begins and is renewed weekly right here.

I haven’t been a total part of your parish but I’ve witnessed those of you who are total parishioners. You show each other that tender touch when words fail or that hug that speaks a thousand unspoken words. You are that smile that welcomes a new face and that smile that welcomes a face that’s been here for a hundred years. That’s “Church.” It’s not housed in Rome but it lives within all of your hearts. It’s not somewhere else but right here in this old, old church welcoming new and even newer members.

“…you all patiently waiting until I’d said
something shocking or sarcastic…”

I take with me to Christ King and St. Bernard parishes what you’ve given to me, that is inadequately stated in words. It’s your captivating spirit. Please don’t lose or forget about your spirit. It’s witnessed in your many outreach ministries and parish ministries. It’s found in your welcoming of priests – even a guy like me and you all patiently waiting until I’d said something shocking or sarcastic – it was only meant to keep you from reading the Sunday bulletin during Mass.

What do I take away from here and from you? Everything and anything meaningful to you. At times you said I preached “right on” and you also told me, sometimes, that I was a fool. That’s what I need to hear as I move completely into parish ministry. Will I be a hit? You bet I will. Will I fail? You bet I will. Will I survive? Gloria Gaynor already answered that question for me.

And the music.

What will I miss at St. Sebs? You’d never guess it but it was watching your children grow up. (And watching old people get even older.) And the music. Michael Kamenski is an oyster that is always open waiting to be opened even larger along with a beautiful choir that most parishes would kill for. It’s Michael’s cantors who put Barbra Streisand to shame while I always thought, “What a shame that those psalms responses were so short.” (“Just a couple more verses, please?”)

Besides the routine Sunday Masses, it’s the Christmas Vigils that I loved. I got to be a part of an over-filled church for the 10:30 pm service (Midnight! Mass) searching for hope, sharing mercy and praying for even more divine guidance and hope to see us through an ending year and a new one soon to open. (One year I had the 4:00 pm Christmas Vigil, slated for “children.” I had a couple of cute points to make for the sermon until I saw the church fill up and then fill up even more – with more adults than children. I panicked. I went outside and had a smoke and came up with an entirely new sermon, more substantial. Thank goodness for experience and a three-minute cigarette!)

When I left Alexian Village (or Alexian Village left me), there was a prayer service held in my honor and I asked to speak. After seven pages, I conclude to all of you at St. Sebastians what I told the Alexian residents, “This experience was never about my paycheck, it was never about my duty, it was never my job but it’s always been my pleasure.”

Thank you for allowing me to be a small part of your lives. Thank you for being a surprising, unexpected presence in my priestly and personal life.

Books by Fr. Joe Jagodensky, SDS. All available on Amazon.com

“Soulful Muse,”
reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture
Living Faith’s Mysteries,”
reflections on the Christian seasons
of Advent/Christmas & Lent/Easter
“Spiritual Wonderings and Wanderings,”
reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture
“Letters From My Cats,”
a collection of letters written by my cats over twenty years
“Bowling Through Life’s Stages with a Christian perspective,”
Bowling as a metaphor for religion and growing up

Posted in Spirituality | 4 Comments

“Linger or Remain?”

lIt’s a mixture of molasses, brown sugar and ketchup mixed in between navy beans, bacon and ground beef in a slow cooker for ten hours that make an outdoor event enjoyable.

My sister’s party was a hit and her neighborhood friends tested or tasted my brownish goo delight. Curious, though how the scent enveloped my humble abode. In the cooking periods, I didn’t mind the growing scent because it was being prepared for a special occasion. Waking up the next morning to its lingering whiffs had me anticipate the yearly occasion. The continuing mid afternoon odors caused me to wonder how long this lingering would linger? Carpet cleaner? Move to a new apartment?

The evening event began and I delivered my heavy, dark-ladened delicacy to the party. Compliments were accepted except I thought it was too watery but no one agreed with me. 1:00 a.m., I returned home and lo and behold, the whiffing decided to hang around a while longer.

Pots are thoroughly washed, cleaned and placed away but walking around the apartment still had that “something” in the air. “Are my cats going to smell like this forever?” I wonder. The party’s over and the food’s been enjoyed. Next event, please?

Lingering memories and thoughts fill the pots and pans within our lives. Good, bad or indifferent; the hanging around part can be welcomed or bothersome. And, “lingering” is the best of words when applied to unfulfilled or regrettable times of our lives. “Remaining” is the word we like and is easily attached to times we thought should have been longer – “Just a one more hour with this friend or that movie, that graduation or wedding celebration or a dying parent.”

How do we handle lingering and remaining? The longer you live the more you need to deal with those two words, words that can either cause a restless night of sleep or a soothing one. We’d like to open the windows to be free of regrets, sometimes as thick as molasses. We’d like the remaining to live strongly in our hearts, recalling details as often as possible.

The stalwart Psalm 23 resolves both of our problems. “You set a table in front of me in the sight of my foes.” Who wants to eat with their foes? At a table of plenty, you enjoy the fruits of remaining moments and also keep a keen eye on the vegetables of lingering regrets promised to never be repeated. Both are a part of life’s meal, nourishing and fulling.

It’s been a couple of days now and my cats smell the same. The apartment windows are wide open and Saturday’s meal becomes a “remaining” in spite of those “lingerings” scents. I hope my evening meal keeps Psalm 23 in my mind. It concludes, “You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Books by Fr. Joe Jagodensky, SDS. All available at Amazon.com

“Soulful Muse,” reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture
Living Faith’s Mysteries,” reflections on the Christian seasons
of Advent/Christmas & Lent/Easter
“Spiritual Wonderings and Wanderings,”
reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture

Newest books include:
“Letters From My Cats,”
a collection of letters written by my cats over twenty years
“Bowling Through Life’s Stages with a Christian perspective,”
Bowling as a metaphor for religion and growing up

 

Posted in Spirituality | Leave a comment

“Stuck In The Middle With You”

Jesus sowing seedJesus uses “wheat, seed and yeast” to describe the Kingdom of God.

“Welcome to the quiz show, ‘Take Your Pick Sunday.’ Take your pick of which one best describes you: wheat, seed or yeast.

Wheat, seed or yeast. If church were a quiz show, we’d have a lovely, lonely housewife from 57th and Lloyd (a street in Milwaukee, WI.) as a contestant. “Mame, if you want a chance to spin the big wheel for the bigger prize, I’m going to need your answer.”

She says, “Seed,” and the audience sighs. “Oh, I’m terribly sorry,” I’d say to her because I’m the TV host, “The correct answer was ‘yeast.’ Go back to being a housewife.”

Roughly a 35% of choosing the correct answer and missed it. Sounds like religion to me! Jesus is the TV host. He doesn’t wear a tie but has sandals. We’re each given that housewife’s question and one chance to answer correctly.

Or maybe the three choices are different for each of us. Another set of three may be, “believe, not believe or kinda believe.” Take your pick on my left. My right side’s set of three may be that person, “hate, ignore or accept”. The front rows of folks have this set of three: “a true vote for Trump, a vote for Trump because you didn’t like Hillary or a true vote for Hillary.” Take your pick.

But religion is not about choice or choosing. Religion is about a passionate belief in a set of uplifting principles and authentic worship that supports and inspires you, challenges you and stands on all sides of you, your entire life. That’s religion.

There is no quiz show when it comes to religion. The correct answer to my quiz is “D.” The answer is all three: wheat, seed, and yeast. Because, all three deal with growth – moving from one place to another, maturing from one thought to a new insight, deeply owning as we age what we took for granted in grade school. Now, your religion no longer “has you” or “owns you” like the old joke about “pray, pay and obey.” Now you have religion. You’ve grown into it.

What was an interesting story about a prodigal son actually happened in your life, the widow cleaning her house for a silly lost coin triggered something significant in your journey toward a deeper faith, walking on the other side of the road to avoid the wounded Samaritan finally touched something inside of you.

Those of you who know me know that I always have a song rocking away in my head. I love music, well here it is. While typing this reflection, a song from a 70’s rock group called “Steeler’s Wheel” came to mind. I think it was their only song. Forget its boy/girl theme and instead insert religion, belief and spiritual growth.

“Well I don’t know why I came here tonight,
I got the feeling that something ain’t right,
I’m so scared in case I fall off my chair,
And I’m wondering how I’ll get down the stairs,
Clowns to the left of me,
Jokers to the right,
here I am,
Stuck in the middle with you
Yes I’m stuck in the middle with you,
And I’m wondering what it is I should do,
It’s so hard to keep this smile from my face,
Losing control, yeah, I’m all over the place,
Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right,
Here I am, stuck in the middle with you
Trying to make some sense of it all,
But I can see that it makes no sense at all,
Is it cool to go to sleep on the floor,
‘Cause I don’t think that I can take anymore
Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right,
Here I am, stuck in the middle with you…”

We existed in God’s eyes before we were born and one day will return to our Creator. Our lives are that “middle” and we’re trying to figure it out along with fellow “clowns” and “jokers” – all of us “stuck” in this middle. And through faith, we are able to “unstick” ourselves by reflecting on the qualities and benefits of the simple things of life: wheat, seed and yeast, and then build our lives from there.

The lonely housewife from 57th and Lloyd was correct. She could pick any of the three: wheat, seed or yeast and be right. And she would have won a swing at the big wheel for the bigger prize – eternal life.

Books by Fr. Joe Jagodensky, SDS. All available at Amazon.com
“Soulful Muse,” reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture
Living Faith’s Mysteries,” reflections on the Christian seasons
of Advent/Christmas & Lent/Easter
“Spiritual Wonderings and Wanderings,”
reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture

Newest books include:
“Letters From My Cats,”
a collection of letters written by my cats
“Bowling Through Life’s Stages,”
Bowling as a metaphor for religion and growing up

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Four (Not So Little) Words

music1In the middle of the Catholic Mass, the priest begins a prayer with four words attributed to our love to God: “right, just, duty and salvation.”

This beginning sentence is often (if not every time) hurried through to get to the next  paragraphs. But what about those four powerful words? Four flippantly said words as though what’s being said is, “Nice day today, isn’t it?”

There is nothing “nice” about “right, just, duty, and salvation.” These four words propels us toward something greater and beyond ourselves in the Kingdom of God to come and at the same time connects us to that greater and that beyond in the Kingdom of God right here and now. Can there be a better definition of religion?

Right


It’s opposite is wrong which leaves only one choice. (Who’d choose wrong, unless you’re Walter White?) Right or wrong. There is no middle, no in between or never even a slight mark connecting those two words. In lofty, solid principles, “right” has been clearly defined throughout the ages as well as its been practically adapted to fit the age in which we live. We can think of how many social issues when “right and wrong” collided until the “right” surfaced. Slavery. Women (voting, work, and, pay), Worker’s rights. Gays. What is “right” to our glorious Creator is the question we ask ourselves, in prayer and in action, with each emerging issue.

Just


The blind lady of justice shows us what is just. She’s blind. She’s blinded until all the information is accumulated, assimilated and properly presented to her. Then, only does the blind lady of justice see. She can only see what is before her and presented to her. That’s the blindness of justice until you’re able to see and witness for yourself where “just” lies and where “just” just fails and is lacking. That’s the justice sought out by any religion. (Interesting that it’s a “Lady” of justice, isn’t it?)

Duty


Tricky one, duty is. Just do what you’re told to do without reservation? Just obey? The trick of “duty” is to trick yourself into figuring out what your “duty” is tricking you toward. Is it only this or that or is it that some thing that you haven’t considered? Duty in military service is a mandate but in real life, duty is a discernment. We hate the word discernment because that means homework for us. But homework is the personal “duty” for each of us. If you don’t do your own “duty” homework, then someone else will truly and inevitably do it for and to you. And then you’re stuck with their duty for you until you “duty-up” yourself.

Here’s a duty exclusively for the oldsters among us. We got the duties of youth and adulthood pretty well understood and expected but what is your duty during this third stage of your life? (Grandparents can add at least twenty years to their lives these days.) What duty do you need to complete about your past? What duty can you serve this very day and tomorrow until your tomorrows run out?

If you’re just waiting to die then I can assure you that death will happen. If you wish to live to your fullest during this tender, sometimes called “borrowed time,” then what do you do during this sacred time? How many times I’ve heard, “I never thought I’d live this long!” Stop making that silly remark (as if anyone knows how long life will last) and start living the answer. That’s making “borrowed time,” your time.

Salvation


Salvation is the shortest of my reflection. “Let the chips fall where they may,” said someone about an unknown future. It also applies to our unknown eternal future. I say if the first three are carefully cared for and cared about then the unknown fourth of salvation will easily follow.

The priest may say those four words quickly but within our hearts, please hold them dear, because they are our words offered and given to God as a response to His gift to us: a life that is worthy of life and authentically lived. And only we, with the grace of God, can make at least three of them happen.


Books by Fr. Joe Jagodensky, SDS. All available at Amazon.com
“Soulful Muse,” reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture
Living Faith’s Mysteries,” reflections on the Christian seasons
of Advent/Christmas & Lent/Easter
“Spiritual Wonderings and Wanderings,”
reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture

Newest books include:
“Letters From My Cats,”
a collection of letters written by my cats
“Bowling Through Life’s Stages,”
Bowling as a metaphor for growing up

Posted in Spirituality | 2 Comments

Staying Fit At Work

office-chaos-cartoonWho needs a health club when you have a job!

Jumping to conclusions
Flying off the handle
Dodging responsibility
Pushing your luck
Pushing the sale
“Just punt”
Doing an endrun around projects
You’re stepping out of line
You dodged that bullet
Just throw it in the trash
“Let’s take a time-out”
Throw in the towel
“Let’s put that on hold”
Rushing to conclusions
Shoving a knife in your co-workers back
Knocking the business down
Circling the issue
Stepping on her toes
“Let’s take a step back”
Tripping each other up
Running around in circles
This is over my head
Run over by a bus
Racing toward the deadline
Sidestepping expectations
Dancing around the issue
Stretching the truth
Pulling for others
Dragging out old grudges
and finally…
Butting heads together

And it’s all done before lunch!

Books by Fr. Joe Jagodensky, SDS. All available at Amazon.com
“Soulful Muse,” reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture
Living Faith’s Mysteries,” reflections on the Christian seasons
of Advent/Christmas & Lent/Easter
“Spiritual Wonderings and Wanderings,”
reflections on the Catholic Church and U.S. culture

Newest books include:
“Letters From My Cats,”
a collection of letters written by my cats
“Bowling Through Life’s Stages,”
Bowling as a metaphor for growing up

 

Posted in Spirituality | 2 Comments