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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“it is what it is!?”

Like fingernails on a chalkboard, I hear five words way too much. It contains nothing but twelve meaningless letters. Twice last week which is a low for me. “It is what it is.” It says zero to me but the speaker thinks it speaks volumes. Two repeating words with a “what” in the middle are supposed to summarize one’s present predicament.

It is often said as a conclusion as though there is nothing more to say. I guess you could call it a spoken period. Where’s theologian Reinhold Niebuhr when you need him?

Are we that quick to sell out? It is not even resignation because that would imply a recognition that nothing more can be done about a particular situation. “I am resigned to this,” is not the same as saying, those twelve letters. 

Twelve letters that represent nothing says something about our English education. Whatever the subject that concluding statement leaves me baffled as I walk away. “Was he talking about sorrow or grief or talking about an unknown future?” I think to myself. “Please, try to think of a noun.” It helps the listener (i.e. me) immensely.

Where would the great protestors of our culture be if that phrase was thrown out at a civil rights rally or gay rally or Vietnam protest or women’s rights or BLM or how many others we can recall?  The reason for those gatherings was that whatever the “it” was, it was the “it” that gathered the group to change the present “it” to a different or new “it.” (Don’t you sometimes hate pronouns?)

Niebuhr gives us three responses or approaches to life with a concluding prayer that gathers the three together.  The two pronouns and two verbs with a “what” in the middle provide us with nothing except a “sell-out” speaker and a confused listener (i.e. me). If it’s despair then use the word. I can work with resignation and despair. 

I’ve learned to hear it as a “dead-end” which makes the chalkboard’s sound all the more irritating. We are smart and educated here in the U.S. so how we can so glibly condense and nutshell our lives into two nameless pronouns and two verbs with no action with a “what” in the middle?  Naming the “what” may very well lead us to a new direction or understanding in and of our lives. Heck, I may even learn what you’re talking about!

So, Niebuhr, prays with us, “God, give me the grace to accept with serenity, the things that cannot be changed, Courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish one from the other.
Living one day at a time, Enjoying one moment at a time, Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it, trusting that You will make all things right, if I surrender to Your will, So that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen.”

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Baptism…By Fire

Augustus, Sofia and Callie (ASC, for short) were baptized by me. (Not Christian names but that’s a different sermon.) Actually, I mean those three were baptized by all those gathered at that early 8:00 a.m. Mass here at St. Sebastian Catholic Church back in November 2016. So very young attentive eyes staring up at me while I poured water on their growing hairs, three times; one for each person of the Trinity.

The other day I received a cute picture of a young kid talking on the phone saying, “So today, in church, a guy in a dress tried to drown me. And, I kid you not, my family just stood there taking pictures!”

Parents and Godparents beaming with joy as I place the oil on the crown of their heads proclaiming them to one day act as “priests, prophets, and kings.” Their beautiful white garments are then acknowledged with the word, “dignity” when presented into eternal life; occurring at a hopefully far—far-off date. We all offer a welcoming clap and then we are re-sprinkled to remind ourselves of what we may have forgotten or were told about how many years ago.

Baptized. These three are now freed from that leafy-clothed couple that haunts and under-scores our whole religious lives.  (I thought an “apple a day kept the doctor away!”) Baptized now and soon to be living in a world that few of us will witness.

ASC will never hear a revolving record skip (or the sound of the needle at the end of the song going “sshh,sshh,sshh.” Will they have self-driven cars? ASC will never wait for a neighbor to finish a telephone call before making their own. In their time, they will only touch their chests to activate the implant to receive an incoming telephone call and then see the person they’re talking to in their glasses. ASC will probably never wait for a bus, replaced with some super-studded transport system. ASC will not need to take their shoes off at the airport because newer disasters will lead to newer measures. And, the best of all, ASC will never know that it’s time to go home when the street lights come on.

The first “Black” president and first “woman” president”? Forgotten footnotes to them because so many will have come and gone since our time.

ASC will need to care for their parents as their parents cared for them. Nursing homes during their time will look more like a golf resort if they can afford it. Or worse still, collective housing in “that side” of town, right next to the noisy railroad. Or worsier still, medical methods will be commonplace to ease suffering and of course, quietly rid ourselves of our aged burdens. (Yes, I used the word “burdens” to describe parents in the future.)

Will there still be that awful title, “Third World” or will we have finally solved poverty and hunger? Will there still be “those guys” on 76th and Capital and North Avenue and Highway 100 wishing us a “Happy New Year and Anything Can Help” on his cardboard sign? And, the most piercing question about their adulthood will be, “Is ‘I Love Lucy’” still playing every minute of every day somewhere in the world?

Baptized with water. That’s John the Baptist to Jesus. (From now on, I want to be called “Joe the Priest.”) Baptized with fire and the Holy Spirit? Now we’re talking about Jesus Christ. Baptized. A one-time event? Yeah, right!
When does (or better yet, “when did”) Jesus Christ fully baptize you with that fire and the power of the Holy Spirit?

1240 WOMT radio in Manitowoc. Seventeen years old. It’s 6:30 on Saturday and the previous announcer whisks himself out the door leaving me all alone until midnight. All alone. My first time on the radio, junior in high school. Two turntables and lots of rock songs to play. I forget to turn the microphone on the first time and begin talking. True story! The Vietnam War continues and with my stuttering problem I could not say, “Strategic Arms Limitations Talks.” I used the acronym “SALT talks.” Redundant but still. Because of me, folks in Manitowoc thought there was a shortage of salt.

Friday night I watched “Lilies of the Field” in honor of Sidney Poitier. His professional life was an authentic baptism by fire for a Black performer back then and the movie illustrates it as well. A strong German nun convinces him, every step of the way, to build a chapel when he constantly says, “No.” I tear up each and every time. (Amazon Prime and it’s free!) He even frees himself from the nuns but in three weeks returns to be faithful to those baptismal promises.

We never know when a very scary or a very wonderful exhilarating opportunity presents itself in our lives. Or a daunting obstacle stands in our way. Or a severe challenge presents itself in our lives. Or, we feel tested and tired beyond our controls when baptism has no perimeters. Here’s my short list but feel free to add your own.

A new mom with a colicky baby. Your first speech in front of the class and you swear that you are, indeed, not wearing pants. A mother of two youngsters loses her husband to cancer. A parent is the last to leave the cemetery after burying her son or daughter. A fresh nurse at the hospital is asked to work an additional shift – in the ER. Your husband who always seems to be two drinks ahead of you. Waiting for your doctor’s call about your prognosis caused by your diagnosis. (Or my favorite of all) The sixty-year-old daughter becomes the parent to her eighty-five-year-old mother. “Eat your vegetables!” The daughter-now-a-parent demands. “I don’t wanna!” The former parent replies. Fiery Baptisms. Full of fire and the power of the Holy Spirit.

I said some of this back in 2016. ASC don’t remember that day, only what their parents told them on its anniversary; if they even remember the date. “You were so cute and you didn’t cry,” will be repeated until ASC think they actually remember it. The baptism was performed by a priest whose name will escape the parents. I don’t mind. “What was that guy’s name? Sounded Polish. And, he thought he was funny!”

“Baptism by fire,” when the real of life makes life … real for us. When the water, fire, and the Holy Spirit unite within us providing the fortitude and strength to see us through absolutely and anything. A phrase I often use now as I get older, “what we do to life and what life does to us.”

Just like those three callings of Baptism years ago, we were all commissioned to be a “priest, prophet, king,” each in our own way, for the way of our times. As priest: honoring the “now” for any time is sacred. As prophet: keeping a Christian’s wide eye and a listening ear, for the Godly right and the oftentimes wrong – to what the future may be because of what happens now. As king: to serve the least among us and be constantly conscious for the common good of all, especially the less fortunate.

Tall orders for three infants wondering why their heads are wet on that early morning in 2016. And, also a tall order for us tall people who felt the same sprinkling from John the Baptist and then throughout life rely on Christ’s fire and the Holy Spirit. We slowly (sometimes even reluctantly) but gradually and gladly assumed those same Catholic Christian responsibilities.

Here’s how I ended that November Mass over six years ago. Being good Catholics when time is more important than prayer – three baptisms and a great sermon. This 8:00 a.m. Mass ended at 9:02.

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Scrolling Out Our Gifts

A scroll. A youngster would ask her mom, “What’s a scroll!” Her young mom would say, “Heck if I know.” Yet the unrolled scrolls of Ezra and Jesus Christ today proclaim to us all that the good news of the joy, love, and the glory of God actively lives and resides in our midst.

Not a bad day to attend Mass, don’t you think? Happy and inviting Scripture readings. When I think of a scroll, I picture the town’s Cryer standing in the courtyard with some admonishingly bad news declared by the kingdom’s king. “Hear yea, hear yea,” yelling as loud as he can.

These days we don’t roll out a scroll with announcements about ourselves. These days we hear an often, quiet whisper inviting us more fully into the Body of Christ. “I think you’d be good at this,” says the whisperer. These whispers don’t enter our ears but arrive and arise from our hearts and souls. St. Paul vividly describes that any one gift cannot survive nor serve the whole without the combined gifts of others.

(Slight cough.) “We interrupt this sermon for this very important public service message. If Congress could only heed the St. Paul passage about our many different gifts but the one Spirit. Working only together. The worst part of it is that if we see our civic leaders divided and divisive, then, just like little children (even at adult ages) we begin to slowly imitate that fruitless, ineffective, wasted behavior. ‘Imitation is the highest form of?’ And now back to today’s sermon.” (Slight cough.)

Ezra unrolls it and says, “Today is holy to the Lord our God. Do not be sad, and do not weep.” Jesus declares, The Spirit lives within me, I’ve been anointed to help the poor, liberty to all that holds us down, recovering not our sight but a God-like sight to all we meet, freeing ourselves, as best we can, and others from thinking we just can’t do this or that any longer. To proudly proclaim that the year 2022 is a year blessed by the Lord for each and every one of us.

Whispered to us, “I don’t think your gift is the hand but your feet could do wondrous things within the Body of Christ.” The “Body of Christ,” is never, ever one of us but together, collectively celebrating who we individually are and who we can collectively become.

In no uncertain terms, God whispered me that I’m not allowed to own or operate any power tools but I can write a memorable funeral sermon in thirty minutes. Alright, one hour. My gift. Your gift. Our collective gifts raised to a Godly level.

Our favorite trio! God, Son, and Spirit say to each and every one of us this and every single day of our lives: “You have a special gift to share with someone in need, to share the joy that We’ve given you, to keep our Church active and alive.” So, please ‘unroll’ your gift (I couldn’t resist), so please unroll your gift for the Trinity’s glory and honor and toward the benefit of goodwill to others.”

The three of them also tell us that, “poverty” (not only money but the bankruptcy that so often hardens our hearts), “captivity of any kind” (like Jacob Marley, what chains have we created for ourselves and can find no way out?), “blindness” (selfish, narrow thinking like “I’m always right and you’re always wrong), and “oppression” (keeping any one person or group down in order to keep you remaining on top), “These are not Our words,” says the Trinity, “They are yours to admit, to own, to address, and to solve.

The Trinity finally asserts, “That’s all We have to say to you (pause) … for now.”

(Whispers are said in bold.)

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“Joy Divine”

One of the easiest funeral sermons I’ve delivered was an Alexian resident named Joy Divine. (Real name!) It’s not that I knew her well but her name was the key to our celebration of her life. (Can’t do much with Jagodensky…oh well.)

Happiness is a temporary, passing emotion that can quickly change when a car runs a red light. Joy, however, is truly divine. It’s lasting because it doesn’t begin or end with us. That red-light-driver may cushion our joy but it only lasts a short time.

We can all think of examples when joy has been tested like “gold in fire,” according to the Book of Wisdom. There may be singes but never a burnout. Too bad St. Paul didn’t make his inventory a foursome adding joy to faith, hope, and love. I think joy would have completed his list. Joy wraps herself tightly around each of St. Paul’s virtues. (And, yes, with a red bow on top!) The other three are fragile without joy’s enfolding.

Last year’s parish theme was “joy.” Entries were few but I understand that. It’s hard to describe. And being “good Catholics,” we’re never to brag about ourselves. Yet, I guarantee you that joy is not only divinely sent to us but it’s as contagious as our darn virus, mask, or no mask. You can’t help but feel joy when another person just beams full of it. That contagion has a long shelf life when you recall your visit with that person and the exchanges the next day and the following week. A parishioner stopped me after Mass today to say what a great day he had yesterday. His great-grandaughter was baptized. I’m still thinking about his joy late this afternoon.

When Ascension Healthcare eliminated my Alexian Village position several people asked me if it affected my faith. I thought it curious because it never entered my mind. How can a company, Catholic or not, affect a divine gift? It was not their’s to give and certainly not their’s to take away. Rather, I believe my sensitivity and compassion, toward myself and others, grew a couple of inches taller.

Our parish theme of joy last year is truly complimented this year with “our beautiful Catholic faith’s” theme. Like the song sings, “You can’t have one without the other.”

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