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“What Is It?”

manna“It’s manna.” “No, I mean, what really is it?” “I’m telling you that it’s manna.”

At the beginning and during difficult times in our lives, this is the question we keep asking ourselves. If not those words then others similar in meaning. We may even preface those three words with the Son of God’s name with an exclamation point at the end. That statement tells us and those around us about the break from our normal to this now confusing or trying time.

“What is it?” is one definition of manna, food from Heaven. The forty-year desert travel was no picnic for the Israelites. God provided them with a daily, morning picnic of this dry food that needed to be quickly collected, eaten and stored before it evaporated. Manna from Heaven. God’s gift to help sun-drenched, thirsty people safely travel to their destination.

In difficult times we may not be able to identify or recognize a cause. We only have this one question with no response. It’s a numbing feeling, sometimes freezing. We look to manna, whether it’s a diagnosis, shocking news, a surprising turn of events or a personal shut-down. Manna allows us to gather, eat and store what we need to see through and beyond what holds us down.

Gathering, Eating & Storing

Calling our present situation “manna” allows us to make this whole experience spiritual, God-infused, God-influenced, God-centered. Including a spiritual perspective breaks us from the loneliness that bad news brings. Through prayer or meditation, we include a spirituality in our present and future deliberations. That’s the gathering of manna.

Gathering manna together with God connects us to family and friends who divinely represent the best of what manna means. We then slowly begin to eat, digest and become a part of a spiritual hope, fortitude or whatever strength we may need at the moment. (You are what you eat?!)

The storing of manna is my favorite part. Like a healthy squirrel, we fill our cheeks with all the “tomorrows” we can hold. It’s that damn “today” that holds us down but it’s those hope-filled “tomorrows” that lead to peace. If it sounds too optimistic then keep gathering until you reach a plateau beyond yourself. It is then that eating and storing will make sense and become real.

Later in the Scriptures, Jesus tells us that he’s the manna sent from Heaven. Those desert folks died, he said, but those who eat and drink of me will live forever.

Whatever union we seek, whether it’s Jesus or another form of spirituality, it all adds up to answering that haunting question during a questioning period in our lives, “What is it?”

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

The newest book is “Letters From My Cats,” a collection of writings from my cats’ perspectives

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“Where Were You?”

where-mdWe may not always know who we are but we are error-free when is comes to knowing where we were when…

When what? Well, it’s when that happened. The “thats” are the significant events and times in our lives and the lives of others.

Kennedy assassination? Easy, sixth grade. We’d just finished the rosary after lunch and recess when Sister-Principal announces on the classroom speakers (We called her “Sister PA”) the tragic news. My sixth-grade teacher, Sister Mary Thomas had us kneel for another five of those decades to pray for the repose of our first Catholic president. (I wonder if we’d done the second time thing for a Protestant!)

Lee Harvey Oswald? Easy, also. It was late Sunday morning watching TV alone and hearing the gunshot in a tunnel transporting him to another location.

Johnny Carson’s farewell show? Cinch. I’m at a friend’s house in Illinois and he misses all the fanfare for that “old guy.” I got to hear Bette Midler sing her song to him as he wiped his eye toward the end. (Real tear of not doesn’t matter, it’s good television finishing thirty years.)

My ordination? I guess that’s not fair. Anyone in my shoes would remember everything about it. But still, it was Saturday at 5:00 p.m. and everyone’s waiting for my mother to appear. Prior to this, she decides to go for a walk with a priest-friend but we still started pretty close to the time in spite of a quizzical look from the retired bishop.

All my siblings weddings? Got it covered. I can even recall songs, food and beverages. The eldest sister’s choice was Pina Colada’s prepared in our home garage by my brother-in-law. (It was a marriage on the cheap, but still fun.) “Et Us Tu” was beautifully sung at their wedding.

I’m told that women are better at details…

I’m told that women are better at details of these “Where” events remembering colors worn, type of weather and even the shoes of others. (“She wore ‘those’ shoes to a wedding?”)

Both parent’s deaths? Exactly what you’d expect from their son. Both are engraved and never to be challenged for its details or feelings. (Even if some details may be slightly off.)

I remember my eighth-grade slap from Bishop Stanilaus V. Bono while being confirmed as a Catholic (to show being “a solider for Christ”) and serving morning grade school Masses with the priest who always smelled like strawberry jam.

1960’s songs conjure up memories with friends, locations and situations. “Atlantis,” by Donovan was playing on the driver’s radio when a friend and I hitchicked forty miles from the seminary to Appleton, WI for no apparent reason, only to prove that we could, indeed, do it.

Prince’s death and Bill O’Reilly’s dismissal both happened on vacations. The first was shock and the second was pure joy.

There’s more but you get the picture. Summon up your own “Wheres” and recollect what you can to recreate a specific time, in a particular place that partly shapes who you think you are.

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

The newest book is “Letters From My Cats,” a collection of writings from my cats’ perspectives

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Two Guys On A Thursday Night

hearts_and_musical_notesSupper was enjoyable but it wasn’t the point that Thursday night. It’s the guy in front of his grand piano and off to the side the guy on his trumpet.

No introductions or warm-ups. Jumping right into a favorite song of theirs begins the evening ritual. Mellifluous thirds and thirteenths are floated off the piano along with life-learned minor chords. The trumpeter supports the melody with some added frills thrown in to buttress either the Burt Bacharach or Michel Legrand standards.

Music is all that matters for this ninety-minute session. Both are professionals but tonight there are no thoughts of appointments, no pending cases or past patients. No cell phone interruptions and only me as their invited intruder that Thursday night.

Trumpeter gently remarks, that, “Something’s not right here.” A discussion ensues inviting the pianist to play the melody with just one finger. “There’s the problem.” Solved. Back now to the wonderful memories, these songs retrieve with a new version enjoyed that Thursday night.

This wasn’t a “jam session,” that’s for kids in a garage. This was more like a cabaret only without the torch song singer or a chattering bar of patrons.

The evening seems to know when to end. It’s getting late and the two will need to tend to those forgotten items tomorrow. I spot a flute standing in the corner and pianist says that his wife is taking it up again. “Wonderful,” I respond. Perhaps, their Thursday night ritual will be renamed like Peter, Paul and Mary, “Six Legs and a Bra!”

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

The newest book is “Letters From My Cats,” a collection of writings from my cats’ perspectives

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The Union of Body, Mind & Spirit

Burt Bacharach had a popular song titled, “A House Is Not A Home.”

Scripture readings talk about houses with many rooms – a good metaphor for our lives.

We all have a house. I don’t mean the structure we live in, I mean the structure that is our body. Our bodies: “a house of prayer,” our bodies: “a dwelling place,” our bodies: “built on a strong foundation,” with a lot of cemented faith thrown in.

How can we make our bodies (I mean our “houses”) “homes.” Home is that comfy place where newspapers can remain on the floor, some dirty dishes still in the kitchen sink and a bed that’s not always made. (Wait! Am I talking about my “home” or yours?!)

Being in healthcare all these years, I’ve always made fun of the advertising slogan of a union between “mind, body, and spirit.” It looks great on a poster but, let’s get real – how can you unify three so different forces: two from the earth and one from heaven.

The house of our bodies is no longer a house when a possible union like that takes place – that house becomes a home where God is welcomed and dwells.

The mind thinks that it’s the strongest when the mind is truly the least of the three elements. The mind is a mere pebble thrown into an ocean of body and spirit. You can try to “will away” all you want but how much control can the mind have over years of an aging body? The mind is that grade school bully that tries to impress everyone with brute strength during the day but who probably knits a sweater at night.

The body has a mind of its own. “Run to the store for me, please,” says a mom to her to her twelve-year-old daughter, and she does run – there and back. Nowadays, I don’t like walking to my car!

The spirit? That’s the tricky part of this equation because the spirit is inspiration, imagination, wonder – both wile and wild. You capture it for a moment and in a moment’s next, it’s gone. But spirit remains within you because it is, like the Blessed Mother, “full of grace.”

I pooh-poohed the union of mind, body, and spirit until it’s now happening to me these past few months. Since I lost my job or rather my job lost me – midday, most days, my hands start to twitch and I’ll feel my heart racing…and I’m sitting down!

I looked online, as only a savvy, tech person would do, and looked up “panic attack” and “anxiety attack.” There I found a wonderful article that’s proven my disunion of the three was wrong.

The article said that many times the mind is telling the body to gear up because something or someone is about to attack you so the body needs to get ready and energize itself to prepare for the fight. So, the body complies. No attack arrives but I’m left with shaky hands thinking a heart attack is next. (Then I start to think in my tiny mind, what songs do I want to be sung at my funeral, who’s going to preach, and if they dare put a roman collar on my dead body…)

The article calmly tells me to breathe in slowly through my nose and count to fifteen. Then, slowly exhale through my nose. “Do this as many times as necessary” until your body disarms itself.  It worked. And, it is working.

So my supposed strong-armed bully of a mind gives wrong information to my listening body which falsely reacts while my spirit is choosing songs for my funeral.

My body, once only my house – now becomes my home.

Burt’s song sings, “A chair is still a chair even when there’s no one sitting there but a chair is not a house and a house is not a home” until the spirit tells the mini mind to KISS (“Keep it simple, stupid”). Then, both my spirit and my mind informs my body that our faith journey throughout life ain’t no “house,” it’s a “home;” for it’s the place where God lives and dwells.

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

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“Forever and Ever”

thLooking outside my kitchen window, I see my neighbor’s tree with its growing buds in early May. It quickly occurred to me that this same tree could easily look this same way in mid-August after a summer of showing off bright colorful leaves.

Beginnings only lead to endings and endings have a way of lingering until a new beginning arrives. An infant at baptism is clothed in white with a candle; clothed in Christ for a lifetime and a light to show the way to him. The funeral for that infant, hopefully, decades later, is again clothed in the risen Christ with an eternal light of happiness and peace. What begins eventually ends.

“Forever and ever” is the priest’s cue to the congregation’s response of “Amen.” If a priest needs a quick mental break then saying those three words gives him a pause to collect his thoughts. “Amen,” says the congregation implying agreement, acceptance and acknowledgment of something greater after the end, ends.

I attended a party for a first communicant (a second grader) and asked his mom if he went to confession beforehand. She said, “Yes.” I said that that “age of reason” (seven-years-old) is too early these days. One should make a good confession at thirty. She told me that she and her husband were called into the school’s office about their son. It seems he cheated on a spelling test. Anxious parents heard their son say, “Now I have something to confess!” He was happy he didn’t need to make stuff up for the ritual to happen. Now he had a ritual and an honest sin to offer to God.

I laughed because now he has a reason to know of God’s mercy and love. He sinned. He admits it and is sorry for it. He’s preparing for the end because he now has a beginning as a creature and not as the Creator. Sin is rarely about the action although we like to dwell on that. Sin is about the context of someone’s life that led to bad or irrational behavior. Catholic folks still dwell too much on doing “things” in order for other “things,” i.e. salvation, to occur. Yet the Church rejects any notion of doing something toward effecting something else. (See heresy.) It is never about “doing” anything in the name of religion but it is always about responding to what has been won for us because of Jesus Christ and our Creator.

One more rosary doesn’t quicken your heavenly journey. One more rosary is one more reason to be aware that God is actively influencing your life – in small and large matters.

My young communicate learned at an early age that the budding tree is also the same tree that will slowly lead to winter – that endless time when the priest sincerely says, “Forever and ever.”

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

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My Graduation Speech In May

Alda_MASH_promoMay is the month of sending forth college graduates into the world of business, culture, finance or wearing a hat while saying, “Supersize that for you, ma’am?”

My May leads me to a new position that was not planned but is now expected. I love reading commencement speeches, read by famous people to the soon-to-be-famous people ending with tossed hats (preferably not to be replaced with a McDonald’s hat.) Their speeches are personal and meant to send forth and inspire the next generation of doers, some good and others not so much, to exceed their already successful speaker. Just reading them gives me goose bumps for the hope and enthusiasm sparked by the speaker’s own experiences of ups and downs.

I imagine this May that I’ll be sitting alone among 199 empty chairs and waiting to toss my hat (or cap!). My parents will not attend but they continue to live within me. My friends will not attend. They’ve shared their share of sympathy for me for months now but life has a way of leading their own lives forward without me.

Thinking of a keynote speaker speaking to an audience of one, I first thought of Alan Alda just because he’s Alan Alda. I would have chosen Robin Williams but he crapped out on me way too soon. I’d be humbled to hear about his depression and the peaks and valleys of his rich life. That’s the inspiration needed for any twenty-two-year-old or a sixty-four-year-old.

Bill O’Reilly called and told me that he’s available to speak but I said, “You’ve got to be kidding! Just write your next book, ‘Killing Bill O’Reilly.’”

I can name how many secondary or third-rate movie stars that I’d love to speak to me but you wouldn’t know who they are but they’re the ones that carry a star’s story forward by giving good or bad advice. They ground the film in real life making it a story worth watching. I like being that second or third billing as the movie credit scroll upwards.

So, I settle on M.A.S.H.’s Alan. In his role as Hawkeye, he performs the conventional duties he needs to perform surrounded by his spontaneous and surprising twists and turns. He’s excellent at what he does but everyone around him wonders about the rest of him. I like that about him and I like that about me.

I’d sit in the middle of those 199 empty chairs to make him comfortable as the chancellor introduces him as those I need an introduction since I invited him. He’d approach the podium to my singular applause. (You don’t stand until he’s finished.)

He’d thanked the necessary people for being here (Two: my imaginary chancellor and myself seated somewhere in the 100th seat.)

He’d say, “It’s good you can still toilet yourself (only in Healthcare is “toilet” a verb) and that you’re still able to drive” (although I feel Uber is in my near future). “You still have much to offer,”  (“Still?” What happened to my oyster analogy? If you “still” me once more it’ll be an audience of zero.)

But now he’s talking. Alan launches into a litany of qualities that have seen him through life – both in character and real life. He revels and is proud of both his successes and other’s misconceptions about him. He said, “Even when people don’t understand me, it makes me laugh and a better man.” He said, “Keep doing what you do best and you just may stumble over kernels of truth along the way.”

Colonel Potter gave a line that I’ve never forgotten, “If you aren’t where you are then you’re nowhere.” Hawkeye is under house arrest (it’s a tent) and Frank Burns taunts him by standing at the entrance saying, “I can go in and I can go out,” repeating it again and again.

I applaud Alan for his attendance although his fee didn’t include a picture with me. I imagine the other 199 graduates leave with me on an onward, unknown future full  of possibilities, promise, and proper pay.

During my last few years of priestly ministry, I’d like to feel some goose bumps from time to time and to thank Alan Alda, I mean God.

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

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A Parish Priest’s Checklist

Do Only Good

cartoon-priest-clip-art-7734-672x372…Everyone has a story and yours is heard second or third or never
…Every child is beautiful except newborns but you still mention the resemblance
…Every duty is a privilege, the duty becomes a challenge which moves to commitment
…Uncover someone’s personal beliefs, the pope is always right and always wrong
…Affirm always
…Encourage constantly
…Never correct, only plant a seed
…Smile when you can’t hear and listen for keywords when you can
…You are not “The Church,” so kill the french cuffs and be yourself
…It’s not a sin to say, “I really don’t know the answer to that”
…Don’t read the gospel after reading the gospel to begin a sermon
…In conversation, your greatest gift is silence with a periodic chuckle or sigh when appropriate
…There’s no such thing as a “bad meeting,” only divided people needing common ground
…Everyone’s child is great at sports
…One phone call to someone in need outweighs all of your beautiful sermons
…Never treat the parish as a whole but as bits and pieces of members that happen to belong to the whole
…After Mass, take two minutes to be interrupted by someone while talking to someone else (It may be your only opportunity)
…Every wedding and funeral is special, even though one may end in five years and the other is pure celebration
…When you want to act shocked, choose surprised
…Run your thought through your head and rinse it before you speak
…You are not a member of the papal policemen
…Don’t react to actions but listen for context, context, context – it takes longer but you’re given a stronger grounding for giving advice
…Never give advice (review previous point)
…”No money, no mission” is wrong, when there’s a compassionate mission, there is always money

Only Do Good

…The pastor is always right, sometimes

Books by Fr. Joe Jagodensky, SDS.
Available at Amazon.com:
“Soulful Musings,” reflections on the Catholic Church and American culture
“Living Faith’s Mysteries,” reflection on the Christian seasons of
Advent, Christmas/Lent, Easter
“Spiritual Wonderings and Wanderings,” reflections on the Catholic Church and American culture

 

 

 

Only

 

Posted in preaching, Priest, Spirituality | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Bread Crumbs Lead “Home”

HanselAndGretel-789800It’s the piece you break off before eating the rest yourself. Is it that tiny piece that temporally satisfies an anxious dog beneath your kitchen table or is it your pathway back home?

It’s those small morsels of bread tossed behind you that mark the leaving of your beginnings and parents behind, but with a careful trail that leads you back home. A morsel of bread. Wheat. Sustenance. The morning smell began your days and its memory-smell lives within you until the end of your days.

If you’re young, it’s time for those morsels to path you toward an unknown future or as memory-morsels to lead you back home if you’re older and unemployed.

Throughout life we can lose our way, our way may lose us, or those we love leave. But it’s those darn morsels that intrigue me. Slung over our heads as she smugly leaves or sadly as an important job leaves me. Those morsels are remainders of a place, a welcoming place, the beginning place; the place called home.

I lost my job and she’s off to college. My tossed morsels are long spoiled and hers are freshly pitched over her shoulder.

For a parent to “let go” of a college-age daughter is second only to her being sent into a war zone – only this time it’s the battle of life. It’s a parent’s last wave at the college’s entrance or perhaps an invisible hug (because “Dad, everyone is watching us!”) – or looking for meaningful work in work’s twilight.

It’s those persistent but never present morsels that bring us both back. Hers in her own time and mine in mine. Mine is the easy one. I know about the morsels and the way back home because I read the “Hansel and Gretel” story. She will live that story without having read it because those morsels don’t disappear – they only lead back to where that morning smell continues to live and is so often taken for granted – home.

Books by Fr. Joe Jagodensky, SDS.
Available at Amazon.com:
“Soulful Musings,” reflections on the Catholic Church and American culture
“Living Faith’s Mysteries,” reflection on the Christian seasons of
Advent, Christmas/Lent, Easter
“Spiritual Wonderings and Wanderings,” reflections on the Catholic Church and American culture

Posted in Being Fired, Spirituality | Leave a comment

Easter: An Empty Tomb?

thShe travels to where he is buried, to pay homage or weep we don’t know. She mistakens an angel for a gardener and discovers the tomb is empty. Stolen? Misplaced? Joseph of Arimathea still owed money on the tomb?

She runs back to tell the guys and, of course being guys, they don’t believe her until they run to find the tomb empty for themselves.

It’s empty. Not knowing as Paul Harvey would say “the rest of the story,” what kind of Easter message is that? An empty tomb?

If your life is presently empty then this Easter story attempts to provide you with a bit of Judy Garland’s, “Over the Rainbow.” It may not work but it’s still a pretty song.

If your life is presently content with lots of responsibilities and obligations then this “empty tomb” stuff is just another of the Church’s holy days. Or, is it?

Emptiness or fullness. Two extremes or is it somewhere in between?  The Easter message has a message for both camps. We can call it a “hole.”

Us feeling that “hole” of emptiness becoming wider with no bottom in sight and very little “rainbow” in its future for whatever circumstance caused that glaring “hole.” Us feeling life’s fullness has pending holes only to show themselves when the bottom breaks.

How can someone who’s experiencing emptiness fill that bottomless hole? How can someone feeling life’s fullness know (or care) about life’s holes?

It’s because it’s Easter. We may love the lilies and those hidden Easter eggs for the youngsters to uncover but the hidden resolutions to an adult’s life can be an Easter Hunt and a half.

Both those “empty” and those “full” folks need to focus on that empty tomb. Jesus was either taken or released. The Christian faith is durable enough to offer us that day for how many different responses.

Those feeling “empty” can slowly fill themselves up with a hopeful future of that slower slogan, “One step at a time.” Those feeling “full” can cherish their fullness but be careful where they walk.

Jesus’ tomb has been emptied because his ministry was completed. Yes, he’ll meet them numerous times over forty days but they’ll never recognize him until they eat.

The “Pass-Over” is all about food and Jesus is always hungry after leaving the tomb. Those empty can fill their holes with nourishing spiritual food and a bit of Garland thrown in and those feeling full can find assurance that if a hole does appear, there is a way out.

The Easter tomb is empty. Our lives began empty and we, daily, attempt to fill our lives with every good thing in order to share those good things, and ourselves, with others.

 

Books by Fr. Joe Jagodensky, SDS.
Available at Amazon.com:
“Soulful Musings,” reflections on the Catholic Church and American culture
“Living Faith’s Mysteries,” reflection on the Christian seasons of
Advent, Christmas/Lent, Easter
“Spiritual Wonderings and Wanderings,” reflections on the Catholic Church and American culture

Posted in Easter, Spirituality | Leave a comment