Palm Sunday, Virus 2020

(Videotaped Mass for Queen of Apostles Parish, Pewaukee, Wisconsin.)

Our holiest of days next week is not unlike the unholiest of a family’s yearly obligatory, optional dinner gathering.  It’s the Sunday Brunch!

It’s obligatory because it’s family, it’s optional but they’ll talk about you if you don’t show up. (“And, bring a casserole to pass!”) Let the drama begin.

Because of our present crisis, it will not occur this year in its full fashion. This year you settle on your hot ham and rolls with a limited number of people, some of us honoring that holy day alone. But that doesn’t discount our memories of past Easter Sunday’s banquet full of those strange people we swear we’re not related to but call “family.”

There’s the talkative aunt, thrice-married and now dating. (I thought “three was a charm!”) There’s that prodigal son, thirty-five-year-old son who returned home with his now, new fourth investment venture that “Really can’t miss”. There’s the quiet mother preparing supper and listening to the stories of others, no one asking her much about hers. In the corner of the living room is the baffled college-age daughter, excellent grades, but wondering whether to remain a Catholic or not. Dad’s seated in his favorite chair observing all this excitement around him. He hears half of it it and ignores the other. Stories and jokes are told that have been told every year. Conversations rise louder in equal proportion to the consumed alcohol. Dad’s tired from his week’s work but happy to, again, gather them all together. Children are running around the house wondering why all those old folks are interrupting their supper. Mom told them that it’s a special night, once a year, only every year.

Once a year we gather together all the characters that make up our dramatic Christian drama. We think there’s a central character, Jesus Christ. Yet, he’s surrounded next week by all kinds of sorts. There’s that guy running to the ER with a missing ear. Those folks warming around the fire asking the future pope to declare a faith he has yet to own. Then there’s that guy with clean hands shirking responsibility and setting Anthony Quinn free. And, how about that unbelieving guy with a sword at the end of our story who then becomes a believer? Those two fellows on each side of Jesus – you know the two of them. We behave just like them. They are how often us, all performed in one day. Of course, our drama would not be complete without the dude who proudly accepts thirty pieces when he could have easily gotten fifty. (Poor guy. Both lacking in belief and poor in business.) The gent toward the end of our story who offers his resting place for the killed King of the Jew. He’s last name sound like a gentlemen’s cologne.

Like those jokes from relatives, we hear words we only hear once a year – Kidron valley, scabbard (it’s a dagger), Caiaphas, praetorium, tethered, Barabbas, Stone Pavement, and the worst of all, yet the most saving and beautiful word is: “Golgatha.”

It’s family. During our lives, we can be all the characters in our Christian drama. When we finally come to our humble and worthy senses, then we can all turn to Golgatha, that place of transformation. That place when we finally connect and unite our earthly lives to our heavenly life in God. That’s family…and that’s a meal worth celebrating.

So, take your palm, I mean evergreen and wave away. This glorious gathering only happens once a year. And this is the year that none of us will never forget. If you have children, please take extra time to explain what’s happening to implant in their brains the uniqueness of this year’s Easter celebration and how it continues because of the strength of our Catholic/Christian faith.

Next week we get to gather together around our various technologies to relive the biblical family story that caused our redemption. It’s a yearly renewing adventure for us all.

But it is no longer the Biblical character’s adventure in faith; they did theirs. Theirs’ is done. It is all ours now, even during, no, especially during this weird period. It is ours, our very own personal and familial faith adventure; in this exact time and within our very lives. Even though we are unable to honor it together, as a community of faith, in this sacred, wooded place, this place we happily call our “parish home,” “our second home.”

(walking away, I return to say,)

Oh, I almost forgot. Don’t forget the name, Mary Magdalene…next Sunday, she gets dessert first.

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Corona Virus: Want or Need?

“Between August 2016 and June 2017 I was treated for cancer with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. I entered that time as if it were a pilgrimage, guided by the adage that “the Camino gives you what you need, not what you want.” [The Camino hike in Spain is 360 miles and takes a month to complete, 14-16 miles a day! That’s off my bucket list.]

Some days were good, some not so good, but overall I did really well. So, though I had been told it was normal, I was surprised to feel mildly depressed after the final radiation treatment.

I thought a lot about Lazarus during the months before I felt restored to life. What was it like for him to be dead and suddenly find himself alive? How did it feel to emerge from the tomb, his burial bands thrown aside, his face uncovered? He was naked as a newborn, all his senses on heightened alert. He must have smelled the stench Martha worried about. His eyes once again gazed at his loving sisters and his beloved friend Jesus.

Most people have experiences that hint at what Lazarus knew. Like me, it might have been cancer or another serious physical illness. People trapped in a cycle of addiction, treatment, and relapse know it. Their families know it even more. And anyone who has experienced the mercy of the confessional knows the shock of freedom that forgiveness bestows.

Sometimes, in our panic and fear, we cry out like Mary did, ‘Lord, if you had been here . . .’ But Jesus is always with us, and he always acts ‘for the glory of God’ —sometimes when we want it, but always when we need it.”

[During these weird virus times, “Lord, if you had been here…” Not for our wants – I want this to end today! – but for our needs – patience, kindness; spiritual virtues to see us through.]

Rachelle Linner
Rachelle Linner is a freelance writer, reviewer, and a spiritual director. She has a master of theological studies from Weston Jesuit School of Theology and a certificate in spiritual direction from the Franciscan Spiritual Direction Certification Program.

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Virus & Parish “Us”

Without having planned it, this emergency situation has come to us precisely in the Lenten season. Hopefully, this present time of silence and a desert-like feeling will help us empty ourselves of any selfishness and lead us to a true Easter conversion. Let us recognize the Son of God in the suffering face of so many sick and their crying families.

Unintentionally and entirely against our will, these days confront us with the reality that we are not omnipotent. The limits of our imaginary boundaries are limitless during this time. We have to recognize and accept this – both during this trying time and in the normal times of our lives. Like Lent, this virus forces us to embrace the limits and the weaknesses that are inherent in the lives of every one of us.

What does Madagascar and Pewaukee, WI. have in common? What we’ve always had and will have in common. Our simple human lives.

This time awakens in us the importance of our deep and necessary relationships, especially those who need to be isolated or live alone. Family and friends can only be the beginning of reaching out to others. They are the building model that teaches us how to be sensitive to peoples all over the world.

This epidemic has no nationalistic feelings. The “Us vs. Them” that often plagues nations and peoples has been unfortunately but rightly replaced by the plague that erases the “Them.” It knows no borders. No one is exempt from this disease and its possible consequences. No one can escape!

“Sensitize us, Lord, to the reality of discrimination and insecurity of so many people who live in a world troubled by fear and doubt for any number of reasons.”

In normal times, how can we alleviate any discomfort and bring a glimmer of hope to those distressed? Kindness is priceless during any moment of our lives.

With the celebration of Holy Week and Easter in jeopardy, what does it mean to the Resurrection of Christ in the midst of a situation filled with apprehension and death? Can this fearful situation, never witnessed in our lifetimes, help us to pray in a different way…with more depth…not allowing fear to speak louder than hope, not hoarding in order to share, washing our hands carefully yet never, like Pilate, washing our hands toward those in need.

Before this present calamity, we were loudly and daily distracted by cultural noises and silly preoccupations. Can we learn and become quieter in order for God to speak louder to each of us? Interestingly, I happily haven’t heard about the Kardashians for a while…or Harry and Meghan. Ummm.

Can we never lose sight of our call to communicate life fully? Both within ourselves and in our actions with others? The God we know and whom we make known is the God of life and Resurrection. For the survivors, can this time live within hearts that proclaim that God has no limits, nor does death have the final power over us. We never succumb under the empire of a fear of dying, so that we do not become a counter testimony of the Resurrection.

Let this period, however long it lasts, strengthen the bonds that make every church, every faith, every faithful gathering – a demonstration, a tribute to the frailty of the human condition as well as the strengths when our lives work together, honoring and celebrating our union in Jesus Christ.

This beautiful church appears to be empty this weekend. In silence, we can hear the creaks of the wood surrounding us. This church isn’t empty. It is full of your thoughts and prayers when we are all filling ourselves with hope within your homes and hearts. Please remain safe and healthy.

I began with the phrase, “Unintentionally and completely against our wills.” What higher call then an inner trust in God, harmony toward all, and the Risen Christ’s peace to fill us.”

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Faith’s Business

“Left or right.” I’m not talking politics. A business term, “the left-hand doesn’t know what the right’s doing.” Especially true in large companies but also so very true in our clever, little minds.

If you noticed, I just canceled out the word “minds” with those two adjectives, “clever and little.”

Our minds can justify anything it wishes according to our, uh, wishes, desires. Not too often when it comes to the Gospel. To compromise the Gospel is difficult to do, if not impossible.

“At the end of the day,” another business phrase, our minds slowly merge with our souls. It’s called truth and honesty. Done in darkness to bring about light to our lives. It’s the light of an enviable merger that any corporation (I mean person) acquires. Whether in our dealings with family, friends or playing mind games in our minds, the Gospel strengthens, admonishes, corrects and compliments the efforts of each part of our lives.

More business stuff, “let’s play hardball,” “keep your eyes on the ball.” Whether you follow baseball of not, it’s a Christian focus that Christ offers us today. “Offers,” or is it “demands”? I believe it’s both. Christ demands but it remains an offer. In our free will, it’s up to us to “Knuckle Down” and “Go the extra mile” to live a meaningful, worthy, fulfilling life. (More business descriptors.)

Yet, how often we say about ourselves, “My hands are tied.” I resign myself to that “left/right” game that keeps me comfortably living and acting within my mind while I attempt to hit the “mute” button to my soul.

The soul knows what the mind needs. Forgiveness and grace, gifts only provided for us by the Holy Trinity. It took three ghosts after midnight to convince Scrooge to finally admit to himself his ultimate business. In his redemption, he says, “Humanity is my business.”

Light. City. Salt. These aren’t business terms but Christ’s lifegiving business words. A light that’s proudly placed on a lampstand. Your life, at last, becomes that city on a mountain that cannot be hidden. The salt that fills your life will never, ever lose its zest, its flavor.

Does life need to remain “left or right” or can it be a holy and enriching “left and right?”

At significant times in your life, your clever mind thinking it’s clever, sheepishly inquires of the soul, “When is this merger thing gonna happen?” The soul quickly responds back to that clever, little mind and says another business term, “ASAP.”


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Flying Home

I wake up in my Florida hotel room thinking about those upcoming six unknown hours that I thought about last night. The Web says, on a typical Tuesday afternoon there are about 6,000 airplanes delivering and receiving anxious flyers. It’s just me carting dirty laundry home.

I packed the night before wondering about weather, delays and all the hapless stories I’ve read about that hasn’t affected me in my years of air travel. (Well, only once!) Yet? Yet? No need to wait for the alarm, I was wide awake an hour earlier.

Florida-Uber-driver takes its twenty-minute drive with talk about my home weather until she asks, “What airline?” She rates me at the end of the trip and I get to rate her. What a loving relationship between two human beings sponsored by a company that has no employees but having thousands of people working for them! (I have a 4.9 rating so, I guess, a previous Uber trip about Trump did not go well. We could have talked religion.)

“Lift, pull and walk” are my three moving words returning some of my stuff to the rest of my stuff at home.

Check-in is easy. The airline survey emailed two weeks later will ask me if they used my name. If it’s not said, I don’t fault them, it’s Polish, I have to think before saying it! (And, how does pronouncing my name ensure a safe flight?!) There’s time for a smoke outside with other smokers who ignore me but some smile at my saddle shoes. (Style still counts.) Since smokers are a dying breed, you’d think a little bonding would be welcomed.

Arriving at the hub, those six hours are now reduced to three. Everything preceding it was easy. No losing shoes, belt or computer when you’re TSA approved. Leaving Milwaukee, I noticed the sign that exempts removing personal items if you’re 75 or older. At age 74, you’re still a threatening believer, but when you reach seventy-five, you say to yourself, “I’m done with all that.” At that age, you get to breeze through the line; unemptied and untouched.

Many in the airport either don’t see, spot, notice, or ignore me. To most, I simply don’t exist unless we do a bump in a crowd. It’s not an airport. It’s a town and we inhabit it, at least for a while. There’s no voting, but a hierarchy does exist. I spot the “business people” immediately for their “above it all” attitude as though they’re the pilots. The cell phone is on the right and the coffee is on the left centered by their computer. Perfect symmetry for mergers and acquisitions. There’s a couple wearing their Green Bay Packer pajamas having beers in the bar. I tell them, “I know where you’re from!” Surprisingly, I later find them seated in “business.” (Subsidy, anyone?) This town has many, many restaurants with fattening menus alongside overpriced shops offering you headphones for forty dollars. I buy a sandwich because “business” only gives you an array of free carbohydrates that even the smilingly flight attendant is embarrassed to offer you. I take two.

Finally seated, the trick to airline travel interaction is to never quickly speak to someone for fear of avoidance or pure disdain. Small talk is okay. It can lead to full engagement, however, I don’t need to hear the long story about your childhood trauma since you look sixty. (I only said that I liked your bag.) Short sentences help connect. Mentioning the Excel spreadsheet spread across your tray can work either way. (Is anyone or thing that important at thirty-four thousand feet in the air?)

Pee visits always preside boarding when you occupy a window seat. (If you want to look out, pee first.) Aisle-guy mumbles to himself, “I have my spreadsheets, my headphones and my neck rest and now you have to take a piss?”

To anyone who asks the next day about my flight, my favorite word is “uneventful.” “It was a wonderful and uneventful flight. I love flying. It was an enjoyable event with the stressful-free “un” added returning home. I used air miles to get there and received miles for using my air miles. (How often does that occur in life?) Milwaukee-Uber-guy takes me home to return my traveling stuff to my other stuff. He’ll rate me, and I’ll rate him. No talk of politics this time around.

I’m happily tired to be home again…until the next time.


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“Light, happiness and peace.” That’s what I say at funerals. No, this is not a depressing sermon.

Apparently, however, it appears that those wonderfully blessed and God-given words are finally announced…at your funeral! And you’re not there. You’re in that other “there,” finally enjoying what was apparently lacking here.

These days, however, we can’t say and live those three long words. “Oh, no!” We need to shorten it for the populace like we did for “light.” It’s now Miller “LITE” beer. Apparently, adding a fifth letter cost more. So, let’s call them “LHP.” Sounds like a pesticide applied to your summer lawn.

Yet, what does LITE have to say about “light, happiness, and peace?” Everything is wrong when it’s spelled LITE. Those three beautiful words are perfectly matched when they are matched with three other worthy life words, “darkness, selfishness, unrest.”

LITE is what most people expect out of life. It’s the most they can hope for. That’s pretty sad when, all the time, those fully spelled words are living within each of us. Did I mention, “wonderfully blessed and God-given words?”

I guess as you listen to me, you expect me to say this stuff because we’re in a sacred place, halfway through Mass, waiting for communion; and I’m saying what priests are supposed to say. I say it, you listen, and we all leave returning to our LITE lives.

The first reading talks about “refining,” purifying” in order for a perfect sacrifice. Sounds like darkness and selfishness to me. We know that we often fall short of that faithful mark. That’s when the refining and purifying stuff fills us up. Imagine someone with a dire diagnosis, we probably don’t need to imagine. it. We know plenty of them. Yet, how can they be full of disease and still uncover and experience peace or light, and you can just forget about the “H,” happiness? It’s because they model their lives after the woman who was also full of it herself. Hers was the grace as is the grace that fills our bodies far more than any disease can.

Diseases are often described in stages. God’s three words are not stages but slowly growing movements that only deepens and grows like the exquisite movements of a beloved symphony. A stage ends with the next one beginning. A spiritual movement blossoms into the next movement remembering the previous.

That’s what makes God’s three words eternal, immortal and living within the part of us that cannot die, the soul; the deepest part of us. “Because he himself was tested through his suffering,” says Hebrews, “he is able to help those who are being tested.” Do you want a better definition of the Body of Christ?

The Gospel has “amazed” parents and onlookers. “Contradicted” is heard a few times ending with the child growing in with three more God-given words, “strength, wisdom, and favor.” A Christian lived life can be a contradiction to common understandings or acceptances.

You don’t have to buy the “light, happiness and peace” I’m talking about. You can always default and sadly settle for the LITE of this world … that’s a fake beer and you remain uncomfortably comfortable living between the stages of darkness, selfishness, and unrest. Isn’t that a great pairing of words that we often unconsciously resign ourselves to? “Uncomfortably comfortable.” What I’m selling isn’t for sale. Through all of our life’s successes, setbacks, and settlings that we settle into, it’s already living and breathing within each of us.

But don’t take my word for it. Just look deeper within yourself.

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2/3, St. Blaise Blessing

The St. Blaise prayer with two candles touching your throat ends with, “And deliver you from every other illness.” Now you have to admit that’s a bit of a stretch. Something is going to take each and every one of us. When the time comes, please don’t blame me nor St. Blaise.

The throat. Pretty important part of the body, as are the many others. Your heart tells your head, “Something’s caught in my throat.” Ummm.

The professionals say, “Having the feeling that something is stuck in the throat can be an annoying experience. To get rid of that annoying feeling that something is lodged in the back of the throat…try coughing or swallowing frequently to try and clear their throat. The sensation of a lump in your throat can come and go and could be accompanied by hoarseness, a buildup of saliva at the back of the throat, inflammation, or, in some cases, difficulty swallowing.” Again, from the professionals.

The medical term, if I may impress you this morning, is “globus sensation.” This “sensation could be caused by the muscles that are involved in swallowing. These muscles don’t relax properly resulting in a feeling that there is a lump in the throat or some other sort of obstruction in the throat when there is none. [sort of obstruction in the throat when there is none?!] Stress, stomach acid coming back up the esophagus, throat infection, allergic reactions to food or insect bites can all cause the feeling of having a lump in your throat.”

Remember when I said, “your heart is talking to your head?” I think it’s really the heart talking to your throat. Something is stuck in there and waiting to come out until you, until you, until you … let it out!

A word of praise to God for this gift of life, a long-overdue apology that’s been stuck…in your throat. An unfinished task, forgiving yourself. You can create your own list.
The professional, Fr. Joe, says, “The heart has important information and does its part. It sends the faithful, sometimes fateful, message alerting the head. The head, in all its weak intelligence, then bypasses all responsibility and sends it down to the mouth, which keeps itself shut for things like this, and conveniently sends it further downward lodging and storing this important information inside the throat causing normally relaxed muscles to tighten up and remain that way, sometimes for many years. The throat panics because it doesn’t know where else to pass on this important information, so the throat finds itself stuck with this tightened muscle thing.”

This St. Blaise blessing covers more than words about your physical health. It also blesses, and challenges, us to release unspoken, but true, healing, consoling, enriching words whether to others or to ourselves.

I don’t feel something stuck in my throat this morning. But, there’s always tomorrow.


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“…and seven others”

“…and seven others.” I’ve heard that ending to a sentence countless times the past two weeks. It was a tragic event but a very sad sentence. Seven other lives were cut short in that helicopter crash. Not a follower of sports, I heard and read about him. I know more about him in death than just a famous name while alive.

“…and seven others.” I made a point to look up their names and learn more about who they left behind and what their lives were like. Very interesting stuff. I needed to deliberately look up their names because his name kept popping up. That is, he and his daughter. Their’s was the front of each printed and spoken sentence with those ending three words.

A celebrity remains one even in death, sometimes becoming more famous with exaggerated attributes. New rule: Ask to see a manifest before flying. If the unlikely happens, you don’t want to be publicly remembered as “…and many others died.” If the manifest is a usual list of ordinary people and I’m flying with them then I can imagine the news report: “A famous priest (self-imposed adjective) ‘and many others’ died today aboard…”

The unknown persons behind you and alongside of you at Mass are as important as the tush behind you.

“…and seven others.” John and Keri Altobelli, 56 and 46, Payton Chester, 13, Sarah Chester, 45, Christina Mauser, 38. John and Keri’s daughter, Alysa, 14, Ara Zobayan, 50.

My headline would have read, “The Altobelli family of three died today in a helicopter crash along with a retired someone of some repute and his daughter.”

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Baptism by “Fire”

It’s 6:28 on a Saturday night. The radio announcer thanks his listeners for listening (who knows how many there are in Manitowoc), and he lets the record end as he runs out the door. He’s gone. My lifeline. The guy I’m supposed to ask questions about operation, you know technical stuff. He’s gone.

I’m now all by myself. There is not a single person in the radio station building. It hits me that I’m responsible for these airwaves, until midnight, five and a half hours. My seventeen-year-old mind recalls remembering my radio license test and quiz.“The Federal Communications Commission may very well be listening,” I could be fined and imprisoned if I make a mistake.

The 45-record “Lay, Lady Lay,” by Bob Dylan was already cued up for me. Not my first choice for my first radio musical selection that I’ll remember the rest of my life. Bob finishes singing, and either you hear shhh-shhh-shhh, (Children: ask your parents what that sounds means) or you turn on the microphone for the very first time and attempt to say something intelligent.

“Baptism by fire,” it’s called. Forget the water, this is a do-or-die fire for $2.70 an hour.

Now, what’s your first baptism by fire? It a phrase that describes someone learning something the hard way through a challenge or difficulty. I’m sure you can easily recall your early “baptism by fire” story. Semi-prepared. Excited. Dread. Anticipation. A frozen fear. A dream come true, at least for me, as a junior in high school. Mistakes, mishaps, stutterings, (worst of all) blaming others, blaming yourself – or is it plainly showing us that the baptism hasn’t taken root. The water’s planted all right. But the roots? Those darn roots. And about all that wise, elderly advice that we ignored because we knew better at our younger age.

I hold out for those two m’s: mistakes and mishaps. Our greatest tutor is uncovered through those two m’s. What better time for the intercession of the Holy Spirit than when we think we’ve got it under control and we have it all handled, and she gently or loudly intervenes and alerts us to correct our two m’s.

John, whose last name is Baptist, introduced us to the sacrament. Jesus Christ thoroughly infuses us with the sacrament through the power of the Holy Spirit – and fire.

It’s your turn once more. When did Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit fully baptize you?

We never know when a daunting obstacle or severe challenge will present itself in our lives. A new mom with a colicky baby, your first speech in front of the class and you swear that you’re, indeed, not wearing pants, a mother of two youngsters loses her husband to cancer, a CEO suddenly faces a PR crisis with an employee caught on video, a parent buries a son or daughter, a fresh intern at the hospital is asked to work an additional 12-hour shift – in the ER, a husband who always seems to be two drinks ahead of you, a newspaper writer working the night shift in Washington D.C. is told to cover a breaking White House scandal and deliver an article to the managing editor by 5 a.m., (or my favorite of all) the sixty-year-old daughter becomes the parent to her eighty-five-year-old mother. “Eat your vegetables!” “I don’t wanna!” Fiery Baptisms.

Eliminated, not fired from a wonderful job for twenty-two years. And it’s a Catholic place! Some people asked me if it affected my faith. I wanted to say, “That’s a stupid question!” Instead, I clearly replied that “Nothing can affect my faith.”

And, if you can’t learn, then you learn to fake it. In those high school radio years, I couldn’t say, “Strategic Arms Limitation Talks.” I practiced in the mirror but to no avail. I said, “SALT talks,” which is actually redundant. Listening to the news read by me, the poor Manitowoc folks thought there was something wrong with their table salt. That’s “Baptism by fire,” coping-style.

And here we all thought that the first and primary sacrament of our Christian lives was that one-time deal. I didn’t know it was happening to me many years ago, but those folks who brought me to church knew it was important. My complete and full baptism frequently occurs throughout life. I’m confident the same is true for you all of you.

The fire of the Holy Spirit baptizes us again and again. Water alerts (John the Baptist). Fire burns deeply inside us, demanding a Christian, humane response (Jesus Christ).

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A Funeral with Adjectives

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” So St. John begins the last Gospel. The other three concern themselves with details, facts, stories chronicling the life of Jesus Christ. John isn’t so much concerned with facts. For him, it’s faith and theology.

You know Catholics have often been ridiculed by other denominations for not knowing the ins and outs of the Bible. The others can cite chapter and verse. Catholics for the longest time centered their faith life around what St. John writes about. It’s a spiritual life built around a trusting confidence, a deep faith, and an abiding hope. If Catholics need to find a passage, we’d look it up.

Trusting, deep and abiding. I love adjectives because they give life to nouns. To merely say that the sun is out today doesn’t do much for color and brilliance. But to add that “the warming, bright sun helps me get through my day.” Now you’re telling someone something that has meaning.

For it is not only to simply say “confidence, faith, and hope.” We can all say that we’re confident that the Packers have a chance this season. That’s said weakly. Add a “trusting” confidence and you’ve expressed something that’s potent. It contains power. The Gospel of St. John ends with, “There are so many other things Jesus did. If they were all written down, each of them, one by one, I can’t imagine a world big enough to hold such a library of books.”

For each of us and especially thinking about Beverly on this day, which is now a holy day for her family and friends, “In the beginning was … you and me.” We began this mystery called life and continue living that mystery our entire lives. We rarely understand or comprehend it because if we did then it wouldn’t be a mystery. It would be a puzzle to be assembled. But to live the mystery of life, death and eternal life, is to be a person with a trusting confidence, celebrating a deep faith and sharing with all those we meet an abiding hope.

“Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself.” The struggles and trials of life either weaken or strengthen that abiding hope. We pray that even when weakness sometimes occurs that we uncover a renewed strength through the grace of God. “Deep faith?” St. Paul clearly announces, “I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race…” The “Good List,” as the Beatitudes are called to provide us with the playbook for all our actions in recreating and sustaining what God gives to us, “a trusting confidence.”

However, I’ve left out a very important faith-filled word. It’s not often used at funerals but it ought to be. More than a feeling, it’s a disposition. It’s what I hope folks take home after Mass driving away from the church’s parking lot. It’s what I hope they’re able to share with others because they’ve been nourished by the body and blood of God’s Son. It’s very contagious, so be careful. It’s a divine infection that no antibiotic or no anti-Christ can cure. Feelings are fleeting. A disposition in faith becomes a part of your character. It’s the fiber, bedrock, the foundation of your life. It’s a strength within you that’s indestructible because it didn’t originate in you – it’s God’s gift to each of us. (It also comes with a lifetime supply.)

Are you dying to know the word? I hope so because our Christian faith tells us that we must die to ourselves in order to live in Christ. Then, each of us becomes a “person of Christ.” The suspense is over. The God-given gift is called “joy.” St. John promises it when Jesus said, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

Beverly and all of us can only taste of joy on our earthly journey. Especially felt and experienced through family and friends. The metaphorical death while living is now fully satisfied with our physical death. It is the joy of uniting with God.

A funeral is also a time for our personal renewal, for us who continue living this mystery we call life. How can each of us build up our trusting confidence, deep faith, and abiding hope? Living and making those adjectives ours gives us the character for the earthly joy when anticipating our own eternal joy.

I deliberately left out the last sentence from St. Paul. It’s Leona talking to St. Peter at heaven’s gate. “I have competed well;” (I don’t care for “compete,” I would say, “I have lived well, with God’s help.”) Paul continues, “I have finished the race.” The last sentence and the most important of all? “I have kept the faith.”

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