A Spiritual Number

seven-1181077_640There are seven days in a week and as many Catholic sacraments. Along with seven seas is the Seventh Day Adventists, as many colors in a rainbow, or notes in a musical scale, or phases of the moon, or bodily organs, or an adjective for heaven and the same amount for those Deadly Sins. There are also seven ways to leave you lover (Sorry Paul, forget the other 43!). Snow White had the same amount of helpers and the Brewers take a “stretch” at this number when it ought to be fifth.

Best of all is the “Gifts of the Holy Spirit.” Guess how many there are. Another season of Lent begins today. For our 2019 version, pick one of them for your spiritual enrichment. Think and pray about what the gift means for these long weeks. On Holy Saturday night, please smile to yourself that this Lent was a deliberate effort to strengthen your faith, to strengthen your relationship with God and your neighbor (which is really redundant.) Then on Holy Saturday night, I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours first. There’s little work on your part. This isn’t like a resolution with a beginning or ending. The virtue does the work for you. That’s what makes it a gift – to be opened, enjoyed and cherished.

I’ll save you a trip to Wikipedia. The Gifts are wisdom, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, understanding, piety and fear of the Lord. Define them according to your present time in life and watch what happens. Happy Lenting! (It’s not a word but I like it, anyway.)

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A Prayer during Times of Trial

“My [child], when you come to serve the LORD,
stand in justice and fear, prepare yourself9853467346_8740280934_z for trials.

Be sincere of heart and steadfast, incline your ear and receive the word of understanding, undisturbed in time of adversity. Wait on God, with patience, cling to him, forsake him not; thus will you be wise in all your ways.

Accept whatever befalls you, when sorrowful, be steadfast, and in crushing misfortune be patient; For in fire gold and silver are tested, and worthy people in the crucible of humiliation.

Trust God and God will help you; trust in him, and he will direct your way; keep his fear and grow old therein.

You who fear the LORD, wait for his mercy, turn not away lest you fall. You who fear the LORD, trust him, and your reward will not be lost. You who fear the LORD, hope for good things, for lasting joy and mercy. You who fear the LORD, love him, and your hearts will be enlightened. Study the generations long past and understand; has anyone hoped in the LORD and been disappointed? Has anyone persevered in his commandments and been forsaken? has anyone called upon him and been rebuffed?

Compassionate and merciful is the LORD;
he forgives sins, he saves in time of trouble
and he is a protector to all who seek him in truth.” Sirach 2: 1-11

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“Integrity”

“A good tree does not bear rotten fruit,
nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit.
For every tree is known by its own fruit.
For people do not pick figs from thornbushes,
nor do they gather grapes from brambles.
A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good,
but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil;
for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.” Luke 6:39-45

thWe say of someone, “How can he live with himself?” Meaning that something is missing in that person’s life. We can easily fool ourselves. Self-honesty is not a given in this life’s journey. I keep telling myself that I look like Brad Pitt but hopefully some truth and sincerity will one day win me over. That $10.00 the waiter undercharged you and you respectfully return to the restaurant. That fake compliment about her hair. Taking credit for a job you barely helped create. Our relationship with the Trinity. Perhaps our relationship with the last statement has an effect on all the previous statements. The words we use, the actions we perform. Elements in life we ignore and elements that we embrace. It all adds up to one of my favorite words: integrity. It has strength when it’s spoken and it has character when it filters throughout your life. “She’s a person of integrity.” What a compliment to pay someone or to believe about yourself.

A preacher said, “We ought to have enough integrity to see both ourselves and others honestly. Jesus was exercising his sense of humor when he compared a splinter in a neighbor’s eye with a whole wooden beam in one’s own. His idea can be encapsulated in the old saying that there’s so much bad in the best of us and so much good in the worst of us that it hardly behooves any of us to talk about the rest of us. To the Christian disciple who’s concerned with the faults of another and ignores his own, Jesus applies the word “hypocrite,” a designation he previously gave only to the scribes and Pharisees.”

Is that inch of gratification, or any kind, worth losing a yard of integrity?

Praying at home or in church reconciles our relationship with God. But, also believe that it reconciles our relationship with ourselves. It renews, rekindles a right relationship with God. “It’s the right thing to do,” we tell ourselves. “I want to buy the right birthday gift for her.” “The answer lies right in front of you.” (Being left-handed, you can guess my relationship with God and myself.) One of my favorite expressions in preaching is always acknowledging that we are the creatures of a Creator-God. Any sin erases that understanding, that lifelong bond. We seem to forget and soon believe ourselves to be that the creator. (Small “c,” always the small “c”.)

From an anonymous poet,
When you get what you want in your struggle for self And the world makes you king for a day, Just go to a mirror and look at yourself, And see what that one has to say.

For it isn’t your father or mother or spouse Who judgment upon you much pass; The person whose verdict counts most in your life Is the one staring back from the glass.

That’s the person to please, never mind all the rest For he’s with you clear up to the end.
And you’ve passed your most dangerous, difficult test If the one in the glass is your friend.

You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years And get pats on the back as you pass.

But your final reward will be heartaches and tears, If you’ve cheated the one in the glass.

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“Both/And”

Love your enemies. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person. If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, gift-wrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life.                                                                                                                         Message Bible

printbothsidesHere’s a quote for you, “We believe television news but doubt our faith.” Madonna sang, “I’m A Material Girl.”

Often in life, we reduce our lives to “either/or” decisions. The “both/and” option rarely seems to be considered. Dating back to 1546 is the saying, “Can’t have your cake and eat it too.”

“Can’t have your cake and eat it too.” Hmmm. In a few moments, together, we will take material bread and cause it to become the bread of “new life,” because we believe. The same will occur with material wine. Then, toward the end of Mass, I’ll lift up both materials to show you that the materials haven’t changed, but our beliefs about them have.

Hmmm. If only I could do that with my feisty neighbor. If only I could do with my arrogant boss. If only I could do that with my stubborn teenager. If only I could do that with … myself. The only true sentence is the last one. And, the last sentence has a way of affecting the first three.

Jesus forces us to love those who don’t love us – give your mink coat to someone who asks only for your shirt. Show the person who slaps you, your other cheek and not the one behind you. All of his admonitions come from the IMmaterial. All of his actions are rooted in holiness, not self-satisfaction or revenge. What is holiness? Holiness is taking the material of our world and making it IMmaterial. Making it something bigger than ourselves. IMmaterial is always concerned with us instead of only me. Madonna cleverly took her sacred name to sing about all things material. Hers was for commercial, personal purposes. As Christians, along with the Blessed Mother, ours is “full of grace” to the glory of God shown and lived through our lives – living with each other. The dictionary says immaterial means unimportant or irrelevant. Capitalize the “IM” and you’ve achieved the stature of being very important and highly relevant.

A more profound way of this “either/or” is from the movie, “Tree of Life.” “Grace doesn’t try to please itself. It accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked, accepts insults and injuries. Nature only wants to please itself, get others to please it. . . . It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it, and love is smiling through all things.”

The material is centered around the self, “What’s in it for me,” and IMmaterial is all about the Body of Christ. Any decision you make is never an “either/or” but always a “both/and” because the latter makes every decision or action sacred in transforming the material into IMmaterial. Then you know that your efforts are holy and worthy of today’s Gospel. If you’re selfish then never buy a truck, because a neighbor will call and ask if you’re free on Saturday.

Take that 1546 idiom about cake and reverse it, and you have a Christian solution. You can’t eat a cake and then have it. That’s the meaning. That’s our culture, but that’s not our faith. Our faith is always about effort, labor, hard work – all performed in a Christ-like-love. A love of sac-sac-sac-sacrifice. (I can never say that word because I so often give in to the material.) This isn’t Las Vegas, folks. What happens here doesn’t stay here. Being in church renews and prompts us all to transform what happens here to what could be or can be beyond these walls. Seeing with the eyes of God, walking with the legs of Jesus and wrapped in the enveloping arms of the Holy Spirit. That’s faith. That’s holiness.

Please remember, Every decision or action becomes sacred in its turning the material into IMmaterial. Or, put another way, taking our secular and making it His divine. If you don’t believe me, just wait a few minutes and watch what happens to those simple gifts that Jesus witnessed for us.

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“Just Do It!”

The Gospel according to St. Luke
“Coming down off the mountain with them, [Jesus] stood on a plain surrounded by disciples, and was soon joined by a huge congregation from all over Judea and Jerusalem, even from the seaside towns of Tyre and Sidon. They had come both to hear him and to be cured of their ailments. Those disturbed by evil spirits were healed. Everyone was trying to touch him—so much energy surging from him,
so many people healed! Then he spoke:

‘You’re blessed when you’ve lost it all. God’s kingdom is there for the finding. You’re blessed when you’re ravenously hungry. Then you’re ready for the Messianic meal. You’re blessed when the tears flow freely. Joy comes with the morning.
“Count yourself blessed every time someone cuts you down or throws you out, every time someone smears or blackens your name to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and that that person is uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—skip like a lamb, if you like!—for even though they don’t like it, I do . . . and all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company; my preachers and witnesses have always been treated like this.
But it’s trouble ahead if you think you have it made.
What you have is all you’ll ever get.

And it’s trouble ahead if you’re satisfied with yourself. Your self will not satisfy you for long.
And it’s trouble ahead if you think life’s all fun and games.
There’s suffering to be met, and you’re going to meet it.

“There’s trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them, doing what indulges them. Popularity contests are not truth contests—look how many scoundrel preachers were approved by your ancestors!
Your task is to be true, not popular.

“To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person. If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, gift-wrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.” Message Bible

Nike-Air-Max-1-femme-iridescent01“What should I do?” is the question all of us ask of ourselves at different points in our lives. The Beatitudes or the “Litany from Jesus” gives us all the obvious answers. Obvious because, as baptized persons, there’s nothing new to his list except our answering that piercing question, “What should I do?” It’s not found in the bottle of beer but in our shoes.

Well, Christians, put on your Nike sneakers and “Just do it.” “Live generously.” Live and love this day as if it’s your last day because, indeed, it is the last day – it is the today that is erased by tomorrow. Ask any cancer patient. Ask any parent holding an adoring infant who’ll want the car keys many years from now. Ask any friend in a hospital’s waiting room. Ask the employee sitting outside the manager’s office knowing she’s about to be fired. Ask the mom with early contractions. Ask anyone, they’ll tell you the obviousness of Christ’s beautiful message.

The righteousness Jesus calls forth from each of us is deeply embedded in our souls. You know your soul. We can’t locate it but we know it’s there. It’s the “tree that shades you from the sun,” “the running water” that smoothly deals with every life issue, it’s the “fruit enjoyed in due season,” “it’s the fruit whose leaves never fades” (except a bit of grey on the top of your head and a slightly larger belly). According to Scripture, we, in Wisconsin, have a better chance of going to heaven because we enjoy (or endure) changes in season. Those folks in Florida and Arizona are like “a barren bush in the desert that enjoys no change of season.” (Poor, retired people.)

A problem comes forward and we can choose to mindfully run from it. Oh, our stupid minds. Hide it under a lamp. Or, our bodies can take a vacation away from it while it continues to stew and stir in our hearts and souls. Silly bodies. We can drink more but that only leads to more drinking.

No, that “What should I do” question is deeply answered within our souls. I can’t give you the answer because that question is even asked of priests. It’s that itch that’s not on your arm but your soul is telling you to “Scratch it and wake up!” It’s that hour of lost sleep when you thought running from those thoughts would help. It’s the laziness that somehow the problem or decision would take care of itself (cue Tinkerbell!).

We’ve been given and have life’s living list, alive and well, living within us. We’ve heard this Scripture passage how many times before and recognize it after hearing the first few words from Jesus Christ. Nike was right, “Just do it.” Do it for your soul’s fulfillment. Do it for the health of your beating, aging heart. Do it “to put your mind at rest,” as the saying goes.. That’s the union of body, mind and spirit. That’s the tree and the running water along with all the enduring seasons and enjoyable fruit that is ripe thanks to God’s grace and strength.

That’s why the Gospel ends not with our culture’s cheap grabbing of life, like a bottle of beer, but with a spiritual mandate that illuminates and makes life-living worthy of our lives, like sneakers soaked in running waters that smoothly deals with every life issue. “Live and love generously.”

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Saying “Yes” with the Holy Spirit

She’s the underrated of the three. I’m talking about the Holy Spirit. You hit your thumb with a hammer and whose name is mentioned? One of the other two. You confess your misuse of one of those names when you should be welcoming into your life the unsung of our mighty Trinity – The Holy Spirit.

Holy. What does that mean? Does it begin with attitude and then move to action or is it the reward we place upon others at their passing? Or, being practical, could it not be a lifelong process in our lifelong journey of saying “Yes” to all the goodness and sadness that life heaves on us. I chose the last sentence. It’s not fishing nets that Jesus calls us to but it’s our daily “Yes” and then filtered those those seven gifts that that underrated Person provides for us.

Do you have a current problem or quandary? Our culture tells us to make a list; pros on one side and cons on the other. It involves a lot of thinking (very tiring) and creating a straight vertical line on a piece of paper (awkwardly troublesome.) Holiness calls us to sit down, quiet yourself and shut up. “Be filled with the Holy Spirit,” says how many of our prayers.

God created and sustains. Jesus Christ shows us how it’s all done. The Holy Spirit breathes into us the fortitude, and six other virtues, we call the gifts from Her. She was called, “Ghost” for centuries until we realized how important and vital She is to dealing and handling life.

We know the Trinity and we also know our own three names, “Me, Myself and I.” Dealt with separately and you have a self-centered and one-sided view of life. Put them together and you have The Holy Spirit’s plural, “Us.” You’ve become a person, an individual concerned with your own life as well as watching the evening news with a tear shared for all the bad and the good in our world.

The Holy Spirit asks each of us, “How do our words impact/affect the lives of others?” “How do my decisions impact/affect the lives of others?” “How can my life become ‘Holy’ through Her seven gifts?”

St. Peter made how many mistakes and misspoken words and he got a basilica named after him…and a Chair!

Take this home and think about it. Holiness is saying “Yes” to the least part of us and making it the greatest. (I don’t know why I wrote that but I believe it to be true.) Pray about the least becoming your greatest.

That’s The Holy Spirit, that is holiness.

So, next time you hit your thumb with a hammer – turn to The Holy Spirit and say, “Oh, Holy Spirit!” “Fill me with your virtues. Fill me with love for myself. Fill me with a deep concern for others. When I finally empty myself through silence and prayer, please, fill me up with your steady and wonderful virtues.”

Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, Fear of the Lord.

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Life 101

Marys-Well-Nazareth-The-spring-of-the-Virgin-MaryThis is one of the easiest homilies for me to write.

The first question asked of you today is, “What is the ‘original sin’ of Adam and Eve” that has plagued every single one of us for centuries?

The answer is idolatry. Idolatry is a projection of ourselves upon someone or something else. You take a part or all of yourselves and make it golden as in the “golden calf” that Edward G. Robinson admired in the movie, “The Ten Commandments.” You make of yourself the beginning and end of your life and therefore minimize the lives of everyone around you. That’s idolatry.

Jesus says, “Today scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” All around him were astonished. One single sentence later we hear, “Wait just one minute! Isn’t he from Manitowoc? Or is it Saukville? Or better yet, is it Waldo on Highway 57? No one goes to Waldo, they only drive through Waldo. Why should we be listening to him?” The big Jerusalem people (aka, New York) discovers that Jesus is from tiny, unknown Nazareth (aka, Waldo).

“Jesus began speaking in the synagogue, saying: ‘Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.’ And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They also asked, ‘Isn’t this the son of Joseph?'”

Or a contemporary remark would be heard, “She’s a republican, forget about her.” Or, “He never went to college, what does he know?” Or, “He’s a truck driver who’s never home, what does he know about family.” Or, “She’s on welfare, she should keep her mouth shut or there’s no more checks.”

How quaint and confident we folks are toward each other. St. Paul gives us that glorious “Love’s List” and we quickly dismiss it in our personal encounters with others but crack a tear hearing it at weddings. Idolatry and projection folks – beware and watch for it, especially these divisive days when I’m always right; even when I’m wrong.

I’m not being political but if our personal lives mirrors our government’s behavior as I’m told it so often does, then we are in deep dodo. Take scripture home with you tonight as you continue to read about politics. Married people of fifty-years or more are not governed by the House Speaker or Senate majority leader. They are governed and guided by the beautiful words of St. Paul and the affirmation from Jesus Christ who came from a crummy, little town but is recognized worldwide as the Son of God.

We need to remind ourselves of several of those things we learned in kindergarten. As adults, it’s called “Life 101.” In idolatry, we can easily forget, but as members of the Body of Christ they are held deeply in our minds and hearts.

—— Share everything.
—— Play fair.
—— Don’t hit people.
—— Put things back where you found them.
—— Clean after your own mess.
—— Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
—— Say you’re “sorry” when you hurt somebody.
—— Wash your hands before you eat.
—— Flush.
—— (my favorite of them all) When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold
hands, and stick together.
—— And you older folks (and me), take a nap every afternoon.
—— And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the
biggest word of all – LOOK.”

When the created begin to believe that they are the Creator, as parents say today, “It’s time for a timeout, kid!” When we slowly dismiss our dependence upon one another and upon our Creator, then we’ve become Edward G. Robinson’s` “golden calf.”

We attend Mass and receive, “The Body of Christ.” Translated for each and everyone of us as “all of us.” “The Body of Christ” is the Church and its outreach lives out St. Paul’s beautiful litany in our thoughts, words and deeds.

You know this was one of the easiest homilies to write. Because we all know better. We know what we need to do and how to do it. It’s the living it out that often holds me back. And, that’s the second question, how about you?

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“Follow The Fellow” Called Jesus

Assisting me with this reflection is lyrics from Broadway’s “Finian’s Rainbow”, followed by the Old Testament prophet Ezra, then the add-on apostle with never an unpublished thought, St. Paul, lastly with the fellow himself, Jesus Christ. Then, melodiously concluded by Barry Manilow and Barbara Cook. While interspersed with song lyrics, all told to you today by Fr. Yours Truly.

“On the day I was born, Set me father said he, I’ve got an elegant legacy waiting for me, It’s a rhyme for your lips, It’s a song for your heart, To sing it whenever the world falls apart, Look, look , look to the rainbow, Follow it over the hills and stream, Look, look, look to the rainbow, Follow the fellow who follows our dream.”

“Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that had been made for the occasion. He opened the scroll so that all the people might see it and, as he opened it, all the people rose. Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people, their hands raised high, answered, ‘Amen, amen!’ Ezra read plainly from the book of the law of God, interpreting it so that all could understand what was read.”

“It was a sumptuous gift, To beguile to a child, Or the lore of that song kept her feet running wild, For you never grow old, And you never stand still, With whipper will singing beyond the next hill, Look, look, look to the rainbow, Follow it over the hills and stream, Look, look, look to the rainbow, Follow the fellow who follows a dream.”

St. Paul declares, “God has so constructed the body so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.”

“Strike one me heart and I roam the world free, To the east with a lark, To the west with the sea, And I searched all the Earth, And I scanned all the sky, But I found it at last, In my own true love’s eyes.”

“{Jesus} unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

“Look, look , look to the rainbow, Follow it over the hills and stream Look, look, look to the rainbow, Follow the fellow who follows the dream, Follow the fellow, Follow the fellow, Follow the fellow, Who follows the dream.”

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Jesus’ Wine

And Jesus said to them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it to him. When the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom, and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.”

I think wedding planners hate when this gospel is read, “Just stay with the good wine first, cheap wine after dinner.” Jesus, however, says and lives the opposite.

“Wine enters through the mouth, Love, the eyes. I raise the glass to my mouth, I look at you, I sigh.” ― William Butler Yeats

But that’s not our Christian faith as Jesus tells us, in spite of talking back to his mother. My mother would have had the soap out so fast…

“I pray you, do not fall in love with me, for I am falser than vows made in wine.”
― William Shakespeare

Wine. It is the most special of all the spirits. If you think the Mass has a ritual just try sitting with a friend for dinner who considers himself a wine connoisseur. Big ritual. First the bottle is held in front of him, label up, as though it’s been a lost but now found treasure. The cork is popped and everyone’s delighted except the connoisseur who may wish to smell the cork, for whatever reason. A small portion is carefully poured into the connoisseur’s glass. Silence surrounds the table. Tensions mount. I’m just thirsty.

A swirl then occurs as the glass swirls measuring this one against other wines he’s enjoyed over the years. Finally, he takes a small sip. Swirling continues only now within his mouth. He swallows. And, without speaking, looks up at the waiter and smiles. We all give a huge sigh because we don’t need to go through a second or third attempt. The wine is then served, half full to us, patiently waiting, thirsting patrons.

“I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food.”
― W.C. Fields

The gospel uses a wedding to illustrate our wedding – our union with God. Like man to woman is our Creator to the creature. To celebrate this union is, what else except, a glass of wine. Later to become his blood for our salvation.

Just like our human life, the lessor wine is served first. Interesting. Jesus does a magic trick with ordinary wine to show us the mystical giving of himself through his extraordinary death and resurrection.

Life has all its trials and successes, its doubts and its faithful beliefs – as best as we can be faithful to them. The end of life is the beginning of our complete life with God. Some people believe that this life is a test, testing whether we deserve that “good wine.” That’s a false belief. God’s kingdom on earth is the foretaste of life in heaven. (Get it? “Taste!) The song sings, “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.” Taste and see and live and breathe God’s kingdom here and now, this very day, and then know that its fullness waits for us all.

“Wine is the most healthful and most hygienic of beverages.”
― Louis Pasteur

Jesus transformed the first-served-cheap-wine into a new wine united with him. This occurs in both of our lives – the one here and now with him as our companion and guide, and along side of him in heaven.

Heaven’s wine-ritual isn’t that elaborate restaurant routine. Heaven’s wine is the tombstone inscription for Frank Sinatra, “The Best Is Yet To Come.”

God sings to each of us at the end of our lives, “The best is yet to come and won’t it be fine…the best it yet to come, come the day that you’re Mine.”

One more.

“Beer is made by men, wine by God.”
― Martin Luther

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Johnny & JC: Best Friends

pictures-of-jesus-greg-olson-way-of-joy
We know them respectfully as John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. We honor them whenever the Mass calls for it.

But these two people were, indeed, people. Just like you and me. Their mysterious lives slowly unfold, just like ours. What was life like for these two cousins, one born of the Holy Spirit and the other born of who could have been his great-grandmother? Jesus and John.

Or, as they referred to each other as young boys, “Johnny and JC.” Johnny didn’t know what the “C” stood for, but it kinda sounded cool coupled with the letter “J.”

Wouldn’t Mary have yelled out, “Jesus, go see what your cousin is up to. You’ve been in the house reading all day.” “Oh, okay mom, just let me finish this chapter,” Jesus would reply. He’d see John (or now “Johnny”) by the seashore building a sand castle. Johnny called it “his kingdom” and Jesus (or now “JC”) would say, “But it’s only built of sand and won’t last the test of time. Let’s go for a run.” And the two of them, now being twelve or thirteen years old, would try to outrace each other from nowhere to whenever they lost their young steam. They’d both fall down laughing and wondering where to get a drink of desert water.

They didn’t live really close to each other but kept in touch as often as possible. Jesus’ parents allowed Jesus to spend the summers at John’s mother house (even though she looked more like his great-grandmother). They’d exchange books they both enjoyed and talk about their future lives, as teenagers do. JC wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps as most boys during those times did. Johnny wasn’t sure what his father did for a living, but ever since his father got his voice back John thought that he also spoke well, and perhaps a public speaking future was in his job.

It may only be a coincidence but both admitted an itch inside themselves, but they couldn’t quite identify what it was. It was an itch that couldn’t be scratched. JC thought it was that he hadn’t traveled much. His mom told him about their trip to Egypt, but JC didn’t remember anything about it. Johnny loved to talk, sometimes too much, but he knew he needed a message; to talk about something important. JC told Johnny that he didn’t want to talk, he wanted to proclaim. JC thought about it and wondered if it was about a better life for humanity, a hopeful future not built on sand but by God. “Wow, JC” Johnny said, “You’ve been reading waaay too much.”

Since video games weren’t invented yet, JC and Johnny had plenty of time to enjoy nature, each other’s company instead of sitting on a couch staring at the television and holding the controls in your hands to kill everything that moved on the screen. One summer, Johnny taught JC how to swim, since Johnny was six months older. He almost lost JC a couple of times which would have changed our faith-filled history. After learning to swim, then JC’s walking on water would be a cinch years later. They both thought of each other as brothers more than cousins since both were the only child in their families. When Labor Day rolled around, JC return to rabbinical school and John, the same.

Around 27 or 28 years old, those childhood names changed to their real names as maturity set in. John knew that Jesus was right. His verb was not talking, it was proclaim. Jesus was beginning to have signals of his own that taking over his father’s business wasn’t the right father. It was the work of the capitol “F” father.

John looked at Jesus’ feet for over twenty years and knew Jesus needed to put his own sandals on, John couldn’t do it. John could only tell us, I mean, proclaim it about him. John welcomed many into a kingdom not made of sand, but he just had water. Jesus had the Holy Spirit.

But the Spirit was within John as well, beginning with his great-grandmother’s birth to losing his head over his best friend, his cousin, his brother. The destiny of Jesus is well known as well.

They’re both in heaven now because they did their job as we must do ours. But there’s also fun up there. Now, it’s back to “Johnny” and “JC” because that’s how they loved each other.

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