Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Answers, Tradition, Direction

Today's Word:
Numbers 21:4-9 (The Israelites lose faith and are afflicted by saraph serpents; but are healed by looking at a bronze serpent lifted on a pole)
Psalm 102:2-3, 16-21 (Lord, hear my prayer; and let my cry come to You)
John 8:21-30 ("When you lift up the Son of Man, you will realize that I AM..."; many people came to believe in Jesus by these words)

A few light bulbs popped on last night as my dear wife and I were discussing things.

I now have some semblance of an answer to the questions posed in Mark Hall's lyric I posted yesterday. To illustrate this, I will actually tie a couple of things together that I hadn't before. To do so, I must revisit the life of Brother Jesse.

Point me in the direction of Albuquerque
I want to go home
Oh help me get home
And point me in the direction of North Milwaukee
I need to get home...

In my post of March 20 I recalled Brother Jesse and how we interacted. In that post I mentioned that he introduced my wife and I to the Holy Hill shrine north of Milwaukee. On several occasions he would ask us to take him there. At the time, I just figured that as a professed member of a religious order, he took it upon himself to make a pilgrimage there. A pilgrimage it was; but there is so much more to the story that I am only now fully understanding.

Brother Jesse would also make a second pilgrimage during the choir's summer hiatus. Every summer he would talk about traveling to a shrine near Santa Fe, New Mexico. He never really described the place in full detail to us, but it was important to him that he attempt to make the trip. Since he was legally blind he was living on disability and Social Security plus whatever he made as a musician. He was able to live comfortably enough, but trips to the Southwest were not as easy to arrange asthose to the grocery store or even Holy Hill. Still, he managed to get out there every couple of years.

My wife and I figured out that there is a connection between Holy Hill and El Santuario de Chimayo outside of Santa Fe. Yes, both places have reputedly been sites of miraculous healing. Yes, both are Catholic shrines; but there is also a connection between the land on which these shrines exist. It seems that a Native American tribe once lived in the area of southeast Wisconsin, and migrated south into Mexico - which at that time in history included parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.

Perhaps it was a tradition established through his ancestral heritage that made it so important to him to make the pilgrimage to both places. It is hard to say with any degree of certainty. But I realized that when Brother Jesse did make it to Santa Fe, we'd make the trip to Wisconsin soon after. It was that important to him.

In my post of March 27, my years in lay ministry formation, I mentioned that in one particular class I understood the teachable moment whereas my 49 colleagues missed it. The subject was on understanding our roots, our traditions as (Catholic) Christians. Traditions are the established patterns in which we express who we are as a culture, and as a spiritual community. Some traditions are timeless, others fall out of use and still others evolve using the expression of the current time.

If we are the body, why aren't His arms reaching? Why aren't His hands healing?

Because we have lost our way. We have become so busy with the mundane. We have put science ahead of faith and its ability to move mountains. Remember what Jesus said about having faith the size of a mustard seed? Remember that Mark's portrayal of Jesus was one of distress because his disciples constantly exhibited little faith?

And I'm sure it will only take a minute or two for you to verify the chapter and verse where Jesus asks:
"When the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on earth?"

That's why I am ultimately hurt and disgusted when our religious leaders do more to separate and divide us than to bring us together. It is nitpicking; it is crossing every 't' and dotting every 'i'; it is inspecting every iota and jot in the Law rather than "Love one another as I have loved you."

Our sacred traditions as Christians are embodied in the manner in which we worship God. Every now and then, it is good to examine those traditions, to incorporate fresh ways of getting the message across. But we must always at the same time recall and incorporate the richness of the tradition that has been laid at our feet by all who came before us, even Jesus himself. It is imperative that we do this. We are passing the faith on to our children, and future generations. What are we giving them? Does the state of creation as we know it reflect this? It most certainly does.

The fact that we're asking Why aren't His words teaching? Why aren't His feet moving? is indicative that we're too caught up in the 'how we do it' and not nearly enough in the 'why we do it'. And what's more, we have to have faith. Faith in the 'why' and not the 'how.' We have to get away from one man's expression is another's anathema. And we need to get back to our roots, and soon. We are headed for our own sojourn in the desert, where anybody can point in any direction and all you see is sand - but faith in God will lead you to the oasis, and the waters of life.

Brother Jesse, Barbara, Diane, Lord Jesus - thank you all for reminding me of this very important lesson.

We may worship different ways
We may praise Him
Then spend all our days
Living life divided...divided

But when we seek Him
With open hearts
He removes the walls we've built
That keep us apart
We trust Him to unite us

In our hearts we're undivided
Worshiping one Savior
One Lord
In our hearts we're undivided
Bound by His Spirit

Does it matter
If we agree
All He asks is that we serve Him
And love as He first loved us

He made us in His image
And in His eyes we are all the same
And though our methods
They may be different
Jesus is the bond that will remain

In our hearts
We're undivided
Worshiping one Savior
One Lord
In our hearts
We're undivided
Bound by His Spirit


--Undivided (1986)
Melodie Tunney, recorded by First Call

Monday, March 30, 2009

Questions 67 & 68 (& 69 & 70 & 71)

Today's Word:
Daniel 13:1-62 (Susanna and the elders)
Psalm 23 (Even though I walk in the valley of darkness, I fear no evil; for You are with me)
John 8:1-11 ("Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to cast a stone")

I went to bed last night wondering how God might answer my prayer and questions. So much went on in my mind I felt certain I would have dreams about it.

But there were none.

My dear wife realizes that wounds in me inflicted ten years ago have been reopened. She's being very kind. Given what she showed me yesterday (which was hinted at in the prayer/letter I posted) she has been concerned, and very supportive of me. On the other hand, just bringing up the subject as I have in these reflections is not unlike picking at a scab. Wounds do get reopened. It was Tim Rice who wrote in Circle of Life (from Disney's "The Lion King"):

Some of us sail through our troubles
Some have to live with the scars...

Today's a brand new day, though; as Sting writes:

Why don't we turn the clock to zero honey?
I'll sell the stock we'll spend all the money
We're starting up a brand new day...

And with this brand new day, some inkling - almost immediately - that God is listening.

Of course, God is well known for answering questions with other questions; the Book of Job is a prime example. One of Bill Cosby's earliest stand-up routines has Noah going at it with God over the building of the ark. When obedient Noah finally snaps in front of God and rants, God's response is, "How long can you tread water?" So, when the radio heralded the start of another chapter in the book of my life, I heard this and latched onto it immediately:

It's crowded in worship today
As she slips in trying to fade into the faces
The girls teasing laughter is carrying farther than they know
Farther than they know

But if we are the body
Why aren't His arms reaching?
Why aren't His hands healing?
Why aren't His words teaching?
And if we are the body
Why aren't His feet going?
Why is His love not showing them there is a way?
There is a way

A traveler is far away from home
He sheds his coat and quietly sinks into the back row
The weight of their judgmental glances
Tells him that his chances are better out on the road

But if we are the body
Why aren't His arms reaching?
Why aren't His hands healing?
Why aren't His words teaching?
And if we are the body
Why aren't His feet going?
Why is His love not showing them there is a way?
There is a way

Jesus paid much too high a price
For us to pick and choose who should come
And we are the body of Christ

But if we are the body
Why aren't His arms reaching?
Why aren't His hands healing?
Why aren't His words teaching?
And if we are the body
Why aren't His feet going?
Why is His love not showing them there is a way?
There is a way

Jesus is the way

--If We Are The Body (2003)
cf. James 2:1-9
Mark Hall
Casting Crowns

When will we get there? To quote a fellow blogger:
"(W)hen we learn to be a cooperative as opposed to competitive species, and greed is no longer the most lauded human virtue."

Or as someone very close to my heart said (something like this): When we start giving more than we are taking.

Heaven help us all.

Can this feeling that we have together
Suddenly exist between
Did this meeting of our minds together
Happen just today, somewhere

I'd like to know,
Can you tell me -- please don't tell me
It really doesn't matter anyhow
It's just that the thought of us so happy
Appears in my mind, as a beautifully mysterious thing

Was your image in my mind so deeply
Other places fade away
Blocking memories of unhappy hours
Leavin' just a burnin' love

I'd like to know,
Can you tell me -- please don't tell me
It really doesn't matter anyhow
It's just that the thought of us so happy
Appears in my mind, as a beautifully mysterious thing

Can this lovin' we have found within us
Suddenly exist between
Did we somehow try to make it happen
Was it just a natural thing

I'd like to know,
Can you tell me -- please don't tell me
It really doesn't matter anyhow
It's just that the thought of us so happy
Appears in my mind, as a beautifully mysterious thing
Yes it does now
Questions 67 and 68!

--Questions 67 & 68 (1969)
Robert Lamm
Chicago (the band)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

That Which Is Not Against Us May Not Be For Us, Either

The Fifth Sunday of Lent

Today's Word:
Jeremiah 31:31-34 (The day is coming when the Lord will establish a new covenant)
Psalm 51:3-4, 12-15 (Create in me a clean heart, O God)
Hebrews 5:7-9 (Jesus understands our sufferings, having experienced them in the flesh)
John 12:20-33 ("Whoever serves me must follow me...the Father will honor whoever serves me")

Ezekiel 37:12-14 ("I will put my spirit in you, that you may live")
Psalm 130:1-8 (With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption)
Romans 8:8-11 (If Christ is in you, your spirit is alive because of righteousness)
John 11:1-45 ("Lazarus, come out!!!")

(DISCLAIMER/ADVISORY: No, that last quote should not be taken to imply in any way that Lazarus was gay...)

An Open Letter/Prayer To God

Dear God,
I'm confused.

I hear that can be normal as one gets older. Still, I believe that getting in touch with you can help keep that in check; so here I am.

It seems I turn my back for one day to celebrate my son's birthday, and when I turn around again, a few things happen that ... well, confuse me.

Like the weather, for one. I just got used to it being spring, and we get five inches of snow last night. Heavy, wet stuff that at my age I should be getting someone else to brush off the car. Makes a real mess driving to church. And I was lucky, for which I'm thankful. One of my colleagues, the music director in my Catholic parish, took an exit ramp just a hair too fast at 7:45 this morning and her car wound up in a ditch. She's alright, and nobody else was involved, thank You - but she's without a car now, and the only time this would be worse would be if it happened two weeks from now. Then to top it off....

...the sun came out this afternoon like the last six hours had never happened!

Yes, I know the people along the Red River in North Dakota and Minnesota have more to worry about from the weather. I know there are people far worse off than they are. I pray that You are looking out for them.

I read that the Archbishop of Canterbury said that You're not going to help us out of the mess we may be in with regards to global warming. He may be right. (He seems to be an exception to an unwritten rule in this day and age.) You did make all of us stewards of creation, and it's obvious that we could do better. I hope that You will be more merciful than just. I have always put more weight on that.

I listened as best I could to the preaching on your Word today, especially John 12:26 (quoted above). The emphasis on that verse was unmistakable. I could tell that this was something I was going to reflect on, and share with the few people who've been reading my reflections this season, for whatever they are worth.

I am trying, really trying, to see Your way clear through life in 21st Century mid-central America. You know it's not easy. There are any number of distractions, real and imaginary, that want my attention. It's not that I don't try. I could have said 'enough is enough' ten years ago, and I nearly did; but You somehow found me and provided for me. You always do.

I know that, in entering the various roles of ministry, I must be willing - as Jesus said - to follow Him. And, as I reflected only a few weeks ago, the road that leads to Heaven goes through Calvary. I believe what happened ten years ago was one such personal trip there. It is probably not the last, and I could be reading this wrong; but it's just what I have come to discern over the years.

I've been beat over the head by religious academia, the concept that a person need to be educated as opposed to moving by the dictates of the heart; dictates that You put there.

I've been dragged through issues of church politics, and the subjective interpretation of Your Word many, many times; in the real world, and in cyberspace, where nobody knows your name but everybody knows your opinion. I've been caught between Your 'policy' and corporate policy.

I've found myself in enough 'no-win' situations that I have questioned the very value of my life. Yet, just when I thought I could take no more, You gave my voice a song. You broke me - gently most of the time. You lifted me up and put me back on the road once more.

Having acknowledged this, I'm really beginning to wonder if the Church that Your Son Jesus established has turned into the thinking-yet-unthinking, letter-of-the-law, Pharisaical mess that existed in the Jewish Temple at the time Jesus walked this earth. They come up with document after document that pronounce that this or that is wrong, while acting like the old boys' club when they think our backs our turned. To the best of my knowledge the trusted leaders of the Church have sidestepped the scandal laid at their feet within the last ten years, to pass judgment on whether or not an Oriental form of energy healing should be allowed to be practiced within the areas the Church's authority.

Didn't Jesus tell us that every good thing comes from You? How can something that is meant to heal the whole person - body, mind, and spirit - not be good? I am reminded that many of the Apostles and saints of the Church were able to perform miraculous healings. I know some of this today is not done in Jesus' name or Yours; but if every good thing comes from you, and it is acknowledged that the healer is simply a conduit, a channel for Divine energy, does anything else matter? If so, what is it that matters? And if not, why does the high clergy insist that it does? Does this mean I can no longer pray for a person's recovery from illness? That I cannot become a channel of peace for others? That I can't let you use me and everything you've given me to foster healing and peace to people anywhere?

I hear a lot about geriatric diseases, God. As I get older, I have a vested interest (as it were) to try and understand what happens. My mother-in-law doesn't remember much of anything in her life, especially in the last five years; my own mother has Parkinson's Disease, the same thing that ultimately ended the life of Pope John Paul II, a person many people outside Catholicism respected, even if they didn't always agree with him. He took the bold step of asking others to forgive the Church for any past sins committed by her representatives from Day One. He saw You in everything, even the thing that ultimately took his life and allowed his spirit to come home to You. Do we stop doing everything we can for those who have been so good to us? That is so unlike what You want for me.

I just wonder how many of the clergy are no longer able to think clearly and see where Your hand is guiding us. I am beginning to think they could be fashioning their own golden idol, giving it Jesus' name and identity, and demanding that we worship it.

I pray that in Your infinite wisdom you will answer the prayers of Your people and provide us with the youth and visionary leaders we need to turn the corner and get back on track to making the world the better place I keep hearing about. I fear, though, that the Powers That Be are careful enough to cover themselves and suppress that youth and vision, thus keeping us wandering in the proverbial desert for the proverbial forty years. Still, I know You've hit it out of the park for me and You'll keep doing so. I won't forget that and I will hang in there.

In my weakness, You make me strong. In my time of trouble, You rescued me. In my darkest hours, You are the light that leads me. I will always love You.

Oh, and if I help anyone come to know You better through by these words I write, the meanderings of my mind and spirit, I am forever grateful.

I have this simply beautiful image of what You're like. Despite all the confusion, I still see that image among the living here on Earth. I hope it's like that when I see all of You.

Thanks for being here. I feel ready to hit the road again.

-the Phoenix

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Joyful, Joyful Wii Adore Thee

Today's Word:
Jeremiah 11:18-20 ("To you, Lord, I have entrusted my cause")
Psalm 7:2-12 (O Lord, in you I take refuge)
John 7:40-53 (Nicodemus' challenge: "Does our law condemn a man before it first hears him and finds out what he is doing?")

Today is my son's seventeenth birthday. It's been an awesome one to him thus far. He received a long-awaited accessory to his Wii console and couldn't wait to use it.

A short time ago, he found out he could download customized Mii characters that others with the system created. Among those he brought in: a Jesus Mii. Jesus is now playing trivia games and has a spot in the Wii Fit lineup - and the console nags Jesus if he hasn't had a workout in a few days.

I wonder how many times over the course of these last seventeen years - not to mention all the years before them - that I have passed judgment or sentence too quickly, without enough consideration of circumstantial knowledge or facts? Or even with total disregard for any evidence that might prove me short-sighted?

To be sure, I've done this many times, even as I try to be careful in having to make decisions affecting others. I'm sorry for each and every time I've done this, and I will continue to work on building discernment and patience in all my decision-making.

As I write, we've been out of bed about three hours and son is exuberant. I'd love to be able to harness his energy at the moment for as many good uses as possible. The world needs this kind of unbridled joy. Each person needs to know beyond doubt that he or she is loved beyond measure. Each person should be able to dream big, yet revel and rejoice at the simplest thing.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Path To Somewhere

Today's Word:
Wisdom 2:1-22 ("Let us beset the just one, for he is obnoxious to us")
Psalm 34:17-23 (The Lord is close to the brokenhearted)
John 7:1-30 (Jesus teaches openly at the Temple; "Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly")

Looking back now, the three years I spent in lay ministry formation were probably the most pivotal of all. A lot was happening; a lot was learned; and a lot presented itself that began to cast the seeds of aspersion that would ultimately become the weeds that nearly choked me.

I learned an overview of the history of Catholicism. Granted it was from a pro-Catholic bias; still, it didn't smack of the anti-Protestantism I was fed as a child. Included was the development of the sacraments of the Church. Did you know that marriage, the sacrament of Matrimony, was not officially defined as such until roughly the 15th Century?

I picked up an interest in the way the Gospels each present a different portrait of Jesus. Mark, the first written, is short and sweet; Jesus is depicted as a man of action, and is shown to be annoyed at times with his disciples. Matthew went to great lengths quoting the Old Testament to prove to Jewish converts that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah. Luke, the traveling companion to Paul of Tarsus, extended on Matthew, showing Jesus as Lord of all people, Gentiles and Jews alike. John, unlike the others, took his followers and readers on a wordy theological discourse - it's no surprise that much of his Gospel is read at Mass during Lent.

There were fifty people taking the various seminars in my 'class.' Of these, eleven of us were in the program as prerequisite for the diaconate. I would get to know most of these people well. One happened to be a neighbor of mine, living two blocks away and attending the parish in which I grew up and spent 13 years singing in the choir. We started carpooling, which gave us an opportunity to discuss class material, as well as the facilitators who presented it.

The first year passed without much fanfare. I noted, though, as did most of my colleagues, that the program director and many of the facilitators (who happened to be women) were all pushing for the use of gender-free ("inclusive") language when referring to God. It was distracting at best and irritating at worst. True, God can be anything God wants to be, and as humans we can't possibly fathom all of it. Yet there were two rather obvious distinctions: nobody can doubt that Jesus was male (Luke even goes as far as to mention circumcision in the infancy narratives); and Jesus often referred to God as "Father", even using the word "Abba" - an Aramaic term of endearment much like our use of "Dad", "Daddy", or "Papa." Still, most of us managed to push past this most of the time. It's interesting to note that our class of fifty was the last group this director had; she was replaced before the next group started.

During the summer hiatus between years one and two, my wife and I learned that she had become pregnant, and that we expected our child to be born the following January. But no sooner than we had become used to the idea that a child was indeed coming, we lost him. Just before class was to start up again, my wife miscarried. It was in the 19th week of pregnancy. As the baby was far enough developed, he would have to be delivered as if he had gone full term. It was a very devastating moment for us both.

When it happened, besides all the grief my wife and I experienced, there was one thing notably missing. We had asked to see Fr. B., my pastor at the time, so that my wife could receive the Sacrament of the Anointing (of the Sick). I had already posthumously baptized our child. But Fr. B. never showed up. I tried to rationalize why he couldn't have come. School was just getting started, and his presence would be needed in front of all the students. That excuse only flew so long, though. He could have even come to our house after my wife was released from the hospital, and he didn't do that either. About three weeks later I finally summoned up enough nerve to ask why he never showed up or offered to be available. He admitted he couldn't cope with the deaths of infants and children. All well and good for him, but isn't this one of the biggest areas where a minister is needed? The community of my classmates were ultimately the arm of the Church that reached out to me during the weeks following our loss. Their compassion and concern helped me, and through me, my wife.

Coming to realize that my parish had no real grief ministry, I recognized that this was something on which to focus in the second year, if at all possible. I was not disappointed. One of the sessions in the second year dealt with grief ministry. It was given by a priest I'd known from my home parish, the one in which I grew up. He had been chaplain at one of the Catholic hospitals for years; he knew his material and presented it well. I would come to rely on much of what he presented.

The other big highlight of the second year was a class that was presented in a very unique way. Ultimately, it dealt with the symbolism we have been taught, what it means to us, and more importantly, what it's supposed to mean. Forty-nine out of fifty people didn't understand what the teachable moment was. The one who 'got it?' Yours truly. Boy, did that have my buddy disgusted!

Certification in this formation process required the development and implementation of a pastoral project; a program started or enhanced at the parish on consultation with the pastor. It also required a mentor from the staff of facilitators. Through discussion with my wife I had decided to develop a bereavement ministry focusing on perinatal (pre-birth) loss. I was put in touch with a person in a neighboring diocese who had already developed some guidelines there; I used this as a model. I chose as my mentor the facilitator from the class on symbolism, the one I 'got' ahead of my classmates. It was enough to get me through. I received my certification.

The proposed project never really got implemented. By the time I was certified, our son had been born; and it could have been seen as a psychological stumbling block, ministering to people with perinatal loss with an infant child.
Instead, I was moved into the broader grief ministry (which the parish didn't really have), and I began to be called upon to visit families at the funeral home and offer the wake service prayers. This was the foundation required for entrance into diaconal formation.

All in all, these were three very important years. In them, I learned all I would ever learn - from an academic perspective - about how to be an effective minister. I also learned that there are some things in life that no amount of training, no amount of foreknowledge, no degree of anticipation can adequately prepare you. In those times, all it can do is help keep you rooted in faith and hope, and in the belief that this, too, shall pass. God is with you, even when you can't see past the moment.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Today's Word:
Exodus 32:7-14 (The Israelites fabricate a golden calf idol; God intends to take vengeance; Moses intercedes)
Psalm 106:19-23 (Remember us, O Lord; we are your people)
John 5:31-47 ("Since you don't believe what Moses wrote, how will you believe what I say?")

One thing you can say about the world we live in: There is no place in it for anything stagnant.

I mean that. Just about everything goes through changes, even slight ones. And if something meant to change doesn't, it goes through the ultimate change: destruction and death. Don't read too much into the last part of that right now. It's important, but I don't want to dwell in what most people see as a negative at the moment. Even God and the Church are what the latter calls "changing, yet changeless." (How's that for an oxymoron?)

My wife and I had been married eight years at the time I decided to enter ministry formation and ultimately, the diaconate. In all that time we did not have children, and not because we weren't trying. When we were first married, we were both working, doing our best to make ends meet and still enjoy life. I always believed that if it were meant for us to have children, God would provide. My wife shared that basic belief; but her practices led to more action.

Over the next three years, the dearest person in my life took me on a journey to understand that part of the dynamic of life. Over that period of time, the origins of a personal paradigm shift would take place. One life definitely came and went. Another is thought to have done so. I could have also lost my wife. But we kept praying, each in our own way. All those prayers were answered. In two days our son celebrates seventeen trips around the Wheel of Life; the two of us becoming one of him. While I can remember life before him (even fondly at times), I cannot and will not picture life without him; just as I can't and won't picture life without my sweetheart, my wife. Even death in its many forms (and I have come to witness many a virtual death - no, I'm not talking the type you see in video games) cannot separate me from either of them; nor will it separate me from God.

If I could have thought to ask for one more thing back then, it should have been for a better sense of foresight. That might have prompted a different response to the lessons I was about to learn, one way or another. Still, learning those lessons, even as hard as I did, has taught me more about patience and compassion than I ever imagined. It has also served to reinforce the spiritual maxim related by Paul of Tarsus: that there are three things that last, faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Hey, Mary! Surprize!!

The Annunciation of the Lord

Today's Word:
Isaiah 7:10-14; 8:10 (The virgin shall be with child, and bear a son; and shall name him Emmanuel,which means "God is with us!")
Psalm 40:7-11 (Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will)
Hebrews 10:4-10 (We have been consecrated through the offering of the Body of Jesus Christ once for all)
Luke 1:26-38 ("I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.")

We interrupt Lent once more for a special announcement. (I'm pretty sure this will be the last time.)

Christmas is coming, nine months from today!!! (Stores are open for your shopping convenience...unless, of course they've gone out of business.)

It doesn't take much in the way of mathematical expertise to figure out that if Jesus' birth is celebrated on December 25 (actual date unknown), backing up the approximate nine-month gestation period, we arrive at today's date.

Doesn't this particular teenage, out-of-wedlock pregnancy set a bad example to girls coming of age in modern society?

Pardon the sarcasm. Of course it doesn't.

Never was there a person more deserving of the honor of being Mother of God('s Son). And never was there a person perhaps more at wits' end when the message was delivered by the Archangel Gabriel. The best visualization I've seen was in Franco Zefferelli's 1978 television mini-series, Jesus of Nazareth. Only Mary is able to see Gabriel, and she's clearly frightened at the prospect. Still, she consents.

Luke's narrative indicates that Gabriel tells Mary that her child is destined for greatness. "The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father." This seems to make about as much sense as being told she's pregnant in the first place. She and her 'bff' Joseph may be descended from King David, but any resemblance between themselves and royalty has been lost over the last thousand years.

Surely a woman's intuitive sense would tell Mary that if her child were destined for glory, it would come at a cost. And what a cost it wound up being!

Mary do you know that your baby boy will some day walk on water?
Mary do you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Do you know that your baby boy will come to make you new?
The child that you'll deliver, will one day deliver you.

Mary do you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary do you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Do you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby, you will kiss the face of God.

Oh Mary do you know---

The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again.
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak the praises of the lamb---.

Mary do you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary do you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Do you know that your baby boy is heaven's perfect Lamb?
The child that you are carrying is the great--I--- AM---.

--Mary, Did You Know?

Lyric by Mark Lowry, 1984 (slightly altered)
Music by Buddy Greene, 1990

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Working for God

Today's Word:
Ezekiel 47:1-12 (I saw water flowing out from the foundation of the Temple; it is life-giving and life-sustaining)
Psalm 46:2-9 (God is our refuge and our strength)
John 5:1-16 (Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath...Gasp!)

Since on the seventh day God was finished with the work he had been doing, he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation.
(Genesis 2:2-3, New American Bible)

I beg to differ. That's right; I believe that something is not all-together in the way that reads on paper.

God never stopped working. Nature is constantly making us aware of that.

God is always at work in some shape or form. That Jesus would heal on the Sabbath amplifies further what I already see.

There was really no such provision in the Law to keep the man in our Gospel passage today from carrying his mat from the pool at Bethesda. What was he supposed to do, leave it there like yesterday's garbage?

It was the interpretation of the Law by Jesus' contemporaries that had anyone not of the 'religious' class scrambling to jump through hoop after hoop to be found 'right' with God. A lot of that same interpretation had that same class - the haves - profiting at the expense of the have-nots.

If I understand correctly (and I make no claim at being perfectly correct) the focus of our Sabbath 'work' should not be devoted to the same toil and labor it is the other five or six. Rather, the main focus is on being part of God's creation and rejoicing in it. Silly as it sounds, that takes work. I'm not saying it should, but rather that it just does. If like me you have a ministerial role, then you are working to fulfill that role. If you aren't a minister, and you attend a church or synagogue or mosque or temple of your choice, you have to get out of bed and wash and get dressed and travel to the place where you worship.

Now add to that the various service roles that require people attending to them, regardless of the day on the calendar. Not just the people who work the front lines managing health care and public safety; but the homemakers and other family folks who put out the traditional Sunday dinner, which is usually more work than the meals they prepare during the week.

When I was the impressionable child in parochial grade school, I was taught to offer all my work - school work, chores at home, and ultimately, my daily labors - as prayer and offering to God. The offerings are far from perfect; I have bad days, frustrating days, days when I feel helpless, as well as days when all the ducks are lined up as I want them and all I plan to do is easily accomplished.

That's the inherent problem when you start analyzing the Bible. It's meant to be taken seriously, but in doing so care must be taken to get at what it says to you. One can take too literal an interpretation, which paints one picture. On the other hand, one can be too liberal, which paints another.

If God took a step back to look at Creation (which is how I read Genesis 2:2), then I should do the same. I should look at creation around me, be satisfied with all the good stuff, and evaluate how I should deal with the not-so-good stuff. I'm not saying I'm an expert at it, but rather that hopefully describes how I approach it.

Monday, March 23, 2009


Today's Word:
Isaiah 65:17-21 ("I am about to create new heavens and a new earth")
Psalm 30:2-13 (I will praise you, Lord; for you have rescued me)
John 4:43-54 (Jesus cures the son of a royal official from a distance)

Those of us who have investment portfolios inevitably are looking at a bottom line. How much will I stand to make if I invest in Company A, Mutual Fund B, or Money Market C? If any of these have been around long enough, you can track past history; otherwise, a financial planning counselor can look at what any of these are doing presently, and estimate the potential earnings, called a Return On Investment (ROI).

When the economy falters as it's been doing lately, those who tend to follow their money everywhere (these are the types that watch CNBC and the Fox Business Channel every day) get very concerned about the money they hoped to make but have not. They refer to this as a 'loss', but is it really? It seems a lot of statistical wealth is no more than a series of numbers on paper, and when the general economy tightens, a truer picture of our fiscal net worth emerges.

What about our spiritual investments?

Today's Gospel passage is an indicator of how high the ROI can be. The son of a royal official (presumably of King Herod's court) is deathly ill. Dad knows of Jesus' rising reputation as a healer, and sets out himself to ask Jesus to come to his home to cure his son. This action alone is risky, because the position of the royal court on Jesus is tenuous. Jesus might be the Messiah that has been by prophets for ages, and if so, he is the heir apparent to the kingship of Israel. Still, the official casts aside any pretense and seeks out Jesus.

Imagine the potential for disbelief when Jesus makes the prognosis that the boy will live without so much as being asked what sort of illness he had! Yet the official takes Jesus at his word and starts out for home, anxious with hope. He is met along the way by some of his household servants, who have wonderful news - the son is much better, the symptoms having left him at the very time Jesus sent the official on his way home.

The official took a risk, and made an investment in faith, and got the return on his investment he was after - his son recovered. Jesus also made an investment - as God's Son - and took that investment to the bank, as it were. The official then reinvested as his entire household came to believe and follow Jesus.

How much is needed to invest? In the financial community, we tend to start talking big from the get-go. If you want to earn big money, you have to spend big money.

In the spiritual community, however, Jesus reminds us that if we have faith the size of a tiny mustard seed, He will help us move mountains.

I've seen it happen. Maybe not the literal moving of a mountain; but the strength to hang in against incredible odds and obstacles and come out in a better way than was felt possible. In spite of all the stuff I've written and have yet to write about my life that put me at odds with myself, the Church, and even God at times, I've become stronger and know I'm in a better place for it; or at the very least, know things could be much worse than they are.

That's the bottom line, the ROI, when faith is the commodity.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

"Mass" Marketing

The Fourth Sunday of Lent
"Laetare" Sunday

Today's Word:
2 Chronicles 36:14-23 (The Babylonian dispersion; King Cyrus of Persia sends home those still exiled)
Psalm 137:1-6 (How can we sing a song to the Lord in a foreign land?)
Ephesians 2:4-10 (You are God's work of art, created to receive in Christ what God has prepared in advance)
John 3:14-21 (God so loved the world...that all who believe in Christ will have eternal life)

1 Samuel 16:1-13 (Samuel anoints David, Jesse's youngest, as the future king of Israel)
Psalm 23:1-6 (The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want)
Ephesians 5:8-14 (Live as children of light)
John 9:1-41 (Jesus gives sight to a man blind from birth; "If you were blind you would have no sin; but now you are saying 'We see,' so your sin remains!")

I own a few of those 'witnessing' T-shirts that can be bought from Christian retailers. One of them has printed on the front:
The Numbers of Hope

(Pastor Paul, I see a concept in this for the summer series you're planning. It took me awhile to get to what 6:33 referred at the time you used it.)

And on the back, the text of John 3:16, summarized briefly above.

It's marketing merchandise for the gospel message, to be sure. But it's also tied to a book written by Max Lucado with the same title.

When the movie "Fireproof" hit theaters last fall, and again when it was released to DVD this past January, a host of merchandise accompanied it. The retailers ate this up, hoping to cash in on the popularity of a film and book with an important (and Christian-themed) message.

There's no question that God loves us, has done and will do every good thing for anyone seeking Him in sincerity and truth.

My question is, just how far should we go with that? Is it really okay for just anyone to profit from marketing the Word of God? Does He love the world that much that he would let us 'sell' his only begotten Son; to use Jesus as a marketing tool?

I realize I am treading dangerous water in breaching this subject. I believe that many who earn their living spreading the Word of God (such as Pastor Paul, other pastors and priests, publishers of the Bible, even me in the compensated role I have) would still do that, even if it were not compensated; it would be a lot harder, but I see it apparent in the dedication they display while on the job.

Truth be told, I appreciate having the items, and having them available. It serves to tell others what I believe. It should serve as a reminder to me as well - but sometimes it doesn't.

So it's one question to ask how far someone can go to profit by serving the Lord. Now comes another: Do I live up to the witness I have hanging on my body?

Where do you stand
What is your statement
What is it you're trying to say
What's in your hand
What's in your basement
What's in the cards you don't play
Are you holding the key
Or are you intending
To pick the lock of heaven's gate
It's confusing to me
The message you're sending
And I don't know if I can relate

What's your line
Tell me why you wear your cross of gold
State of mind
Or does it find a way into your soul

Is it a flame
Is it a passion
A symbol of love living in you
Or is it a game
Religious in fashion
Some kind of phase you're going thru
We all travel the extremes
From cellar to rafter
Looking for a place in the sun
So I'm trying to see
What you're headed after
But I don't know where you're coming from

What's your line
Tell me why you wear your cross of gold
State of mind
Or does it find a way into your soul

--Cross of Gold
Michael W. Smith

The question really goes both ways.

Marketing is one thing. There are many consumers out there who, like me, see the abundance of merchandise saying succinctly what we may have trouble putting in our own words. But if you're going to become a billboard for Christ, you better be prepared to live up to what you silently proclaim. When the observer sees an obvious oxymoron, what does it cause them to think and believe about Christians in general? Or in Jesus Christ, for that matter?

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.

Big thing, that love. Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication, so a song goes. But it witnessed a type of love that had never before been carried on the shoulders of one person. And it has not been carried in quite the same way since. Jesus didn't have T-shirts or coffee mugs or keychains or iPod covers or cell phone holders that read "Up With People" or even "I'm with Stupid" (pointing perhaps to Peter?)"

His love - God's perfect love - found its way to person after person after person. In that love rests our eternal hope.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Half Time - and the Score Is...?

Today's Word:
Hosea 6:1-6 (Long have I waited for your coming home to me...)
Psalm 51:3-4, 18-21 (It is mercy I desire, and not sacrifice)
Luke 18:9-14 (The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector)

For those watching the calendar, we've passed the halfway point of Lent. Just in time, too; the Vernal Equinox was yesterday, and that makes today the first full day of spring.

The Vernal Equinox is the date on which the setting of other events in the calendar is calculated. The date on which Easter falls is calculated based on the when the Full Moon falls following the equinox.

So, how are we all doing? How am I doing?

As far as the disciplines I set have gone thus far, fair. With my dear wife's help I have continued to at least maintain weight (a one-pound gain this week, but an overall loss from five weeks ago). I have shunned the news on the radio 99% of the time (I occasionally forget to turn it off after the traffic and weather information). And, I've managed to post daily and it has sparked some feedback from those I felt would offer it. It's been refreshing, informative, and challenging, and all at the same time.The challenging part indicates I still have some distance to go, but I see that as a good thing.

While composing my weekly almanac this morning (an e-mail I send out to the extended family as my way of saying we're still alive and breathing) I came across three names that are familiar to me (and should be to most of my best readers).

It's the 324th anniversary of the birth of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) whose famous Cantata (BMV) 147 contains a well known triplet figure, and ultimately, this text:

Jesu, joy of man’s desiring,
Holy wisdom, love most bright;
Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring
Soar to uncreated light.
Word of God, our flesh that fashioned,
With the fire of life impassioned,
Striving still to truth unknown,
Soaring, dying round Thy throne.

Through the way where hope is guiding,
Hark, what peaceful music rings;
Where the flock, in Thee confiding,
Drink of joy from deathless springs.
Theirs is beauty’s fairest pleasure;
Theirs is wisdom’s holiest treasure.
Thou dost ever lead Thine own
In the love of joys unknown.

--Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring
Original German text by Martin Janus; English translation by Robert Bridges, 19th Century
Original music by Johann Schop; arranged by Johann Sebastian Bach for the chorale closing his Cantata #147 (1723)

It was also on this day 17 years ago that a well-known and local church composer passed into eternal life; this is one of her composition, from the United Methodist Hymnal:

In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree;
In cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter there's a spring that waits to be,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

There's a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;
There's a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;
In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity.
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

--Hymn of Promise
Natalie Sleeth (1930-1992)

Last, but certainly not least, today is the date of passage of a Native American legend. Pocahontas died in London on this date in 1617; the fictionalized Disney film about her life when the colonists arrived in Virginia
is remembered for this song:

You think I'm an ignorant savage
And you've been so many places
I guess it must be so
But still I cannot see
If the savage one is me
How can there be so much that you don't know?
You don't know ...

You think you own whatever land you land on
The Earth is just a dead thing you can claim
But I know every rock and tree and creature
Has a life, has a spirit, has a name

You think the only people who are people
Are the people who look and think like you
But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger
You'll learn things you never knew you never knew

Have you ever heard the wolf cry to the blue corn moon
Or asked the grinning bobcat why he grinned?
Can you sing with all the voices of the mountains?
Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?
Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?

Come run the hidden pine trails of the forest
Come taste the sunsweet berries of the Earth
Come roll in all the riches all around you
And for once, never wonder what they're worth

The rainstorm and the river are my brothers
The heron and the otter are my friends
And we are all connected to each other
In a circle, in a hoop that never ends

How high will the sycamore grow?
If you cut it down, then you'll never know

And you'll never hear the wolf cry to the blue corn moon
Or whether we are white or copper skinned
We need to sing with all the voices of the mountains
We need to paint with all the colors of the wind

You can own the Earth and still
All you'll own is earth until
You can paint with all the colors of the wind

--Colors of the Wind
(1995) from Disney Pictures "Pocahontas"
written by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz

Yes, Spring is here, filled with hope and promise. As the cycle of rebirth becomes more obvious, and the Earth becomes resplendant in witness to God, the spirit of Lent asks, what will we do with it? Will we grow, along with Nature?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Back to the Past

Vernal Equinox (at 6:43 AM CDT)

Today's Word:
Hosea 14:2-10 (Come back to Me with all your heart...)
Psalm 81:6-17 (Hear My voice)
Mark 12:28-34 (Sh'ema, O Israel!; the two greatest commandments; the scribe understands; "You are not far from the Kingdom of God")

Hosanna Hey Sanna Sanna Sanna Hosanna
Hey Sanna Hosanna
Hey JC, JC won't you smile at me?
Sanna Hosanna Hey Superstar

Tell the rabble to be quiet, we anticipate a riot.
This common crowd, is much too loud.
Tell the mob who sing your song that they are fools and they are wrong.
They are a curse. They should disperse.

Hosanna Hey Sanna Sanna Sanna Hosanna
Hey Sanna Hosanna
Hey JC, JC you're alright by me
Sanna Hosanna Hey Superstar

Why waste your breath moaning at the crowd?
Nothing can be done to stop the shouting.
If every tongue were still the noise would still continue.
The rocks and stones themselves would start to sing:

Hosanna Hey Sanna Sanna Sanna Hosanna
Hey Sanna Hosanna
Hey JC, JC won't you fight for me?
Sanna Hosanna Hey Superstar

--Hosanna (excerpt) from Jesus Christ Superstar (1970)
Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice

I last left my story some 26 years ago, when I began to work with Brother Jesse. His last name begins with C, so at appropriate times Mike and I and others who worked with him referred to him as 'JC.'

I actually wrote a post in his honor in a journal two years ago. I'm going to use much of the stuff I wrote at the time and add to it here. Jesse entered eternal life about twelve years or so ago, the exact date escapes me. This coming April 5 would have been his 71st birthday. Brother Jesse played more than just a small part in my role as a wandering minstrel, and it is only fitting that I offer him some small tribute from wherever in the Great Beyond he is looking at me.

Making the decision to change parishes proved beneficial. As I posted last week, there were new faces; some younger faces, people who for the most part enjoyed being there. Yes, the folks I'd left behind liked doing what they did, too; but there was no sign of any new blood - I was one of the more recent additions, and I'd been there thirteen years! Working with Jesse opened up opportunities as this parish utilized leaders of song (known in Catholic lingo as cantors, a throwback to a similar liturgical role in Jewish synagogues). Jesse promoted getting his cantors liturgically trained; he managed to convince Fr. B. (the pastor at the time) to have the parish pay the cost of attending workshops, as many as three times year. He also managed to wriggle out a stipend for the cantors (while it was a small token, it represented something virtually unheard of in Catholic circles).

Jesse was a 3rd Order (lay) Dominican. He had taken vows with the order and was allowed to wear a habit, which he did on high occasions. He intrigued me. For that matter, it was apparent that I interested him also. It didn't take long for me to move up to roles besides singing. I soon learned that Jesse was legally blind, suffering from glaucoma due to a childhood accident. He needed assistance reading correspondence, filing, typing schedules, and so forth, all of which I was willing to do. He also recommended that I serve on the parish liturgy commission. I was interested in that as it also fed into my long-term goal of serving the Church in as high a capacity as I could.

As he was legally blind, he couldn't drive; and as he was living on a small disability pension plus whatever he made as a musician (I also learned he provided entertainment at the local VFW hall), I was occasionally pressed into service driving him to church from home (and vice-versa) and running minor errands for him. I don't think he necessarily leaned on any one person exclusively for any length of time. Jesse liked to spread himself around. It seemed there were many people who had heard of him. In fact, over the years I would learn more than perhaps I wanted to about how much and how well he was known.

Jesse was a showman. He was a minister. Somehow he managed to combine the two. He was a minister in the showplace and a showman in a place of ministry. But people didn't mind. Only Jesse could get away with playing "Pennies From Heaven" during a special collection in the church, and a triumphal rendition of the Chicago Bears' fight song as a postlude during their winning 1984-85 season. People ate it up. You either really liked him or really disliked him. Sometimes you went both ways.

As the years progressed, Jesse and I learned more about each other. He got to know my wife and introduced us to the Holy Hill shrine in Wisconsin, just beyond Milwaukee. He would make a pilgrimage there occasionally. Whenever he could get us to take him, he would pay for lunch and throw in a little extra for gas.

Through working with Jesse, I also developed a working relationship with Fr. B. My wife and I had actually met him during the planning stages for our wedding in 1981; at the time he was facilitating the marriage preparation seminars (pre-Cana conferences) in the area. My wife reminded me recently that Fr. B was an excellent theologian. That he was. I think he would have had a more fulfilling vocation as a priest had he not got caught up in administrative mumbo-jumbo. That's another story.

Back to Jesse. There is an underside to just about everybody, and Jesse had his. He practiced Santeria - what some call 'Catholic voodoo' - an out-of-the mainstream set of practices which seem to follow older Hispanic folks. These are a blend of Christian and Pagan devotions/spells/rituals, whatever you might choose to call them. That was one thing. It had strange ways of manifesting itself.

I think I'd known Jesse about five years before I understood he was gay. He knew I was married and I don't recall him ever trying to come on to me. I'm not sure if he ever had a partner. In some ways I think this was one reason he professed himself into the Dominican order. I learned through the aftermath of the clergy scandal in the Catholic Church that quite a number of gay men got themselves into the priesthood in an attempt to either shun or glamorize their lifestyle. Jesse was president of a local GLBT organization. By the time I learned this, it didn't change how I felt about him or who he was. To my best knowledge, Jesse never had any relationship at all of the kind that got trumped up in the news. He died before any news of the big scandal broke.

I also learned over time that Jesse had been director of at least two other Catholic parishes, and had subsequently left them, for who knows what reasons. Could be he pushed his envelope in any direction just a little too far. He certainly had the ability to do that. Such was the case that he abruptly left the parish to which he had brought me. The parish went through four directors after he left over a 6-7 year period. The first one, Greg, was another showman with no clue as to the real solemnity behind Catholic ritual. The second one was my friend Mike, who had worked with Jesse. He had the seemingly impossible task of cleaning up the mess Jesse had gotten away with and that Greg had gone too far in exploting. By this time, Fr.B had become more of an obsessive-compulsive administrator, and Mike couldn't deal with that and the multitude of egos that were running rampant in the music program as a result of Greg's theatrics.

Between working with Jesse and Fr. B, there was steady progress for me, and a growing sense of a calling (well, that's what I thought it was back then). I felt I could offer more; that I was supposed to do more. I discussed this at length in my own mind; with my dear wife; with Jesse; and finally, with Fr. B. I felt that, due to the dwindling number of priests, due to my desire to serve, and to my overall abilities, as well as my life situation, that I was called to become something more.

There were processes to go through, a period of formation and training that was a prerequisite for the big step, which was candidacy for ordination to the diaconate. There was a cost (not substantial) involved; surprisingly, the parish picked up half and my parents picked up the other half. And so, with high hopes, I moved into ministry formation.

I had reached a place where I could survey the landscape, as it were. God had indeed been good to me, to us. And the climb from there was not insurmountable.

When I broke the news to my wife that Jesse had died, I remember saying that only God would know what to do with him. He was certainly a rogue, a person who had to live with taking risks; and had to rely on so many. But he was also feisty and independent where he felt he could be. He was a showman, a shyster, and a minister, all wrapped in one. It was hard not to like him, even when he was manipulative. There has not been another person like him in my life, before or since. Whenever I think of him, it is with thanks and the hope that God is caring for him in the afterlife.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Joseph, We Hardly Knew Ye, Part Two

In my earlier post today, I entered the area of speculation when I mentioned:
"Some traditions suggest that (Joseph) and Mary had other children..."

This refers to Matthew 12:46-47(NIV):
While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, "Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you."

There are similar passages in the other Gospels: Mark 3:31, Luke 8:19; and John 2:12.

So what gives here?

When these passages are discussed, the position among Catholics is that the word 'brother' has a broader meaning in biblical culture than it does to us today. They refer to these 'brothers' as we would 'cousins.' Remember, that Mary and Elizabeth are cousins (Luke 1) and that John the Baptist is Elizabeth's son. That makes Jesus and John the Baptist second cousins, or first cousins once removed - I can never keep that straight; just like reading those long genealogies that pop up in the Bible.

Catholics are taught that Mary is a perpetual virgin, and that Jesus was the only child she bore. To have had other children would negate the definition of her virginity.

Suppose, though, that Joseph was married and became a single father and a widower before he became engaged to Mary. It was not impossible. Though there is no basis in Scripture to support it, this would explain that Jesus' 'brothers' were in fact half-brothers. This would also keep Mary's perpetual virginity intact.

I'll offer yet two other speculations.

All of the Old Testament prophesies indicated that the Messiah would be born from the lineage of King David. Matthew and Luke go to lengths in the genealogies they present to prove that Joseph is of David's lineage. But Jesus is not his child, so that proof is moot. To fulfill the prophecies, Mary must also be of the Davidic line, which is assumed but never proven in Scripture.

It is not essential to the Christian faith who these 'brothers' of Jesus are or where they came from. For that matter, Mary's perpetual virginity could be seen in the way she was devoted to God, regardless of whether or not she bore any other children. Indeed, Christians are all brothers and sisters with Jesus, out of the act of love in which he gave his life.

In the hubbub surrounding Irish Herit---I mean, St. Patrick's Day, another saint's observance (also all but ignored because it occurs in Lent) got by me. Shame on me!!! He's no lightweight, either - and a lot of legends surround this individual's contributions to the beginnings of Christianity.

I'm speaking of Joseph of Arimathea, who is venerated as a saint by the Catholic, Lutheran, Eastern Orthodox, and some Anglican churches. His feast day is March 17 in the West, July 31 in the East. This Joseph was a man of wealth, possibly a merchant or tradesman whose business caused him to travel. He was, according to accounts in the Gospels, a member of the Sanhedrin - the Jewish council that advised the chief priests. He and Nicodemus were secretly disciples of Jesus. Upon Jesus' death Joseph immediately purchased fine linen (Mark 15:46) and proceeded to Golgotha to take the body down from the cross. There, assisted by Nicodemus, he took the body and wrapped it in the fine linen, sprinkling it with the myrrh and aloes that Nicodemus had brought (John 19:39). The body was then conveyed to a new tomb that had been hewn for Joseph himself out of a rock in his garden nearby.

A series of legends grew around him during the Middle Ages, which tied him to Britain and the Holy Grail; the chalice used by Jesus at the Passover Seder before his crucifixion (the Last Supper). Some speculate that Joseph and Jesus travelled to the British Isles prior to the beginning of his public ministry; those 'lost' years between 12 and 30 where nothing is recorded in Scripture. Others speculate that it was the resurrected Jesus who appeared to Joseph on a journey to Britain (and when he received the Grail and other 'relics').

A number of historians of the period, notably Tertullian, Eusebius, and Hippolytus, all wrote indicating that Christianity had reached the British Isles ahead of Roman emissaries or missionaries. The time in which these wrote (as early as 170 and possibly as late as 340) were ahead of the birth of Patrick, whose life we honored two days ago. If indeed with God "all things are possible" as the Lord Himself said (and as is sung on occasion at any number of churches), do we deny that God might have as part of his ultimate Plan those elements that we cannot possibly fathom or understand??

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the Holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?
And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.

William Blake

Joseph, We Hardly Knew Ye, Part One

Feast of Saint Joseph, Husband of the Virgin Mary and Protector of the Child Jesus
Patron of the Universal Roman Catholic Church
Patron of laborers (a separate observance of St. Joseph the Worker is held on May 1,
intentionally coinciding with the observance of Labor Day in countries outside the US)

Today's Word:
2 Samuel 7:4-16 (God will raise up heir after heir from the House of David)
Psalm 89: 2-5, 27-29 (The son of David will live forever)
Romans 4:13-22 (It was not through the law, but on righteousness through faith that Abraham became the 'father of nations')
Matthew 1:16-24 (Joseph takes Mary under her care, even knowing that he is not the father of the child she bears)
or Luke 2:41-51 (Twelve-year-old Jesus remains at the Temple; "Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?")

For the first time since Ash Wednesday, the Church seriously disrupts its observance of Lent to honor possibly the least understood man in all of Christian scripture.

The accounts of the Nativity and early life of Jesus portray Joseph as a man with some rather distinctive traits. He is compassionate. He obviously found love in his relationship with Mary, at a time when marriages were still arranged and women were considered little
more than property. The depth of his compassion, though, shows when he discovers that Mary is pregnant - out of wedlock, no less - and the child is not his. Under the Law, Joseph could have turned her over to the authorities, where she potentially faced being stoned to death (and that's not by getting high, folks). Instead, he had decided upon getting her away from potential attention, and then breaking off the relationship. But when the archangel Gabriel pays him a nocturnal visit, Joseph takes the word of the messenger in faith and Mary becomes his wife.

Joseph is also diligent. No doubt he had to work hard to provide for his family. Another visit from an angel warned of a threat to the child's life; so they bid a hasty retreat from Bethlehem and take up residence in Egypt for two years before it was safe to return. It's
generally assumed that as Jesus became old enough, Joseph began to teach the young boy in the skills of carpentry.

Above all this, Joseph is a man of faith. When Jesus remains behind in the Temple at age 12 and is ultimately found again, Joseph does not take up an argument to Jesus' being about 'his Father's business.' He knew Jesus would not become a carpenter by trade; he took it on faith that the child was destined for something far greater.

Joseph is not mentioned again in the Bible after this last event. Some traditions suggest that he and Mary had other children, which is disputed by Catholics. This is an interesting subject and I am prompted to consider this in a follow up post. For the moment it is of lesser importance. What is important is that Joseph was no part-time or 'deadbeat' dad.

That brings me to a related item. A new US government study reports that births to unwed mothers reached an all-time high of 40% in 2007, the most recent statistical year available. More than 3/4 of this group of moms were age 20 or older.

For a variety of reasons, it's become more acceptable for women to have babies without a husband, said Duke University's S. Philip Morgan, a leading fertility researcher.

Even happy couples may be living together without getting married, experts say. Some cited a growing trend among all adult women to have children regardless of their marital status, says the Associated Press story.

But it begs the ultimate question: will these couples make the ultimate commitment - to each other and their children - through marriage, or will the relationship break up at the first sign of serious trouble, leaving a mess in its wake?

Joseph and Mary made that commitment in spite of any reason to shy away from it.


Today is a break from some of the disciplines of Lent among those of Polish, Italian, and Spanish cultures.

In Spain, it is the Dia de Las Falles. In Valencia, the Falles celebrates Saint Joseph's Day, and at about midnight the city will go up in flames – or so it will seem as about 300 massive fires are lit. The first written records of this now hugely popular festival date from the mid-18th Century and the early 19th, though it's thought that the Falles started in the Middle Ages, when artisans put out their broken artefacts and pieces of wood that they had sorted during the winter and burned to celebrate the Spring Equinox.

A group called the Casal Faller meets, one in each neighborhood of the city, and works all year long holding fundraising parties and dinners, usually featuring the famous regional seafood dish, paella. Formerly, much time would also be spent at the Casal Faller preparing the ninot

During the week leading up to today, each group takes its single favorite huge ninot out for a grand parade, and then mounts it, each on its own elaborate firecracker-filled cardboard and papier-mâché artistic monument in a street of the given neighborhood – this complete assembly being the Falla proper.

In Poland and more notably, Italy, the feature of the day is the St. Joseph's table, which displays the earth's bounty and represent the householders' gratitude for the saint's continued protection. The foods are meant to be shared with the poor. Three disadvantaged children are invited into the home; often these three are dressed in bed sheets to represent the Holy Family and they are treated as guests of honor. Called virgineddi, they eat from the many dishes on the table, which include pastries and breads, because St Joseph is patron saint of pastry chefs and fry cooks. They always have maccu di San Giuseppe, a stew with five kinds of legumes and many other vegetables and herbs. Italian-Americans traditionally wear red today. Children born today are lucky and a Scottish highland belief has it that they cannot be shot in battle. A clear St Joseph's day presages a fine and fertile year ahead.


Today also marks one of the natural wonders of the world, though by no means unique as marvels of migration of insects and birds are around us every day, whether we notice or not. Having left on October 23 (traditional date), the swallows traditionally return to San Juan Capistrano Mission (founded in 1776), in California, from Goya, Corrientes province, Argentina, on or around St Joseph's Day (March 19) each year, greeted by large numbers of locals and visitors from all over the world. It is one of Earth's best-known equinox (or near-equinox) events.

A story about another Joseph (whose observance even got by me) as Part Two.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Sage Wisdom

Today's Word:
Deuteronomy 4:1-9 (Moses reintroduces the Law to the Israelites, about to enter the Promised Land)
Psalm 147:12-20 (Praise the Lord, Jerusalem; for God has blessed you richly)
Matthew 5:17-19 ("I have not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it")

It seems I have run into a host of questions lately, prompted by my writing. Why have I done so? What do I hope to achieve by it? I suppose those are the root questions; yet there are others. If God is everywhere, why do so many speak of our separation from him? Does what I do represent my authentic self, or is it to impress others?

The best answer to all the above is, "I don't know."

Really, I don't. I have all sorts of rationale that drew me into writing, something I find difficult at times. Still, I cannot profess to know all the answers. If I did, I might be wealthy; but more likely, I'd be dead. Despite all the clamoring among ourselves to seek expert wisdom, that wisdom is often filled with truth we don't want to hear. I believe that now I'm being more of my authentic self; the 'me' as God created me, but...

I cannot profess to be a risk-taker. Even though we all take risks daily by the very fact that we're breathing, I don't live "on the edge" or anywhere near it.

While I profess to be Christian, I cannot profess to be a perfect one under all the iotas and jots that form the complexities of the Law. Nor should I. If we're doing our best, God meets us where we are.

When you are trying to wrap your arms around the idiosyncracies of life, you tend to lean toward the closest thing you can to a sage or a wise woman, or a very close friend, right? Someone who knows you rather well and will give you the straight story? Sure, you do.

I dare say I'm not brave enough; in addition, in my youth I was probably just impetuous enough not to admit I could use some sage advice or direction.

Knowing what I do now, I would have liked to have picked my grandmother's brain a bit more. It's not as easy as it would have been, for she passed into eternal life four years ago yesterday. She was less than three months away from her 98th birthday at the time.

She was a hard worker all her life. I don't have the exact date she married my grandfather, but I'm figuring they wed in 1930 - my father was born the following year. Roughly ten years into their marriage, my grandfather died; leaving her to raise her two sons as a single mother. She worked for AT&T (the OLD one, which included Illinois Bell), and somehow managed to juggle everything around.

She knew the value of cleanliness - she is the only woman I know who could clean the decorative decal off a table lamp. She was a master of the cleaning rag; she used Comet like Michael Constantine used Windex in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." In her heyday, nothing missed her eye.

She knew, like most Italian women of the time, that the way to an Italian man's heart was through his stomach. She actually offered us authentic ethnic cuisine which is something I would not have experienced for a long time on my own had it not been for her. My mom's cooking was fine - it just wasn't all that Italian.

Like my dear wife, she did not 'suffer fools gladly.' She was polite, but she had plenty to say and knew when and how to say it.

It's been four years, but I still sense her spiritual presence in my home at times. I believe I love that. Yes, with that presence comes reminders of things she might observe and talk about were she still living, but that is part of the package. Because of her influence, past and present, I have done good things I might not have thought to do otherwise.

I can't remember if I ever properly thanked her or told her I loved her for all this, but I sense she knows in the end I appreciated everything. I still do.

When my dad and uncle started the process of settling her estate, her twelve grandchildren (including me) were given the opportunity to have something of hers - furniture from her home, pictures, stuff that would otherwise ultimately be sold. I took two plants; the only living things she had. It was by and large one of the better decisions I've made in life.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Luck of the Irish

Feast of Saint Patrick
Patron of Ireland, Nigeria, and the American Catholic dioceses of Boston, MA; Burlington, VT; Fort Worth, TX; Harrisburg, PA; Norwich, CT; Portland, ME; Sacramento, CA; and New York, NY
Also patron of engineers and excluded people; invoked against snakes and snake bites

Today's Word:
Daniel 3:25-43 (The prayer of Azariah/Meshach in the fiery furnace)
Psalm 25:4-9 (Remember your mercies, O Lord)
Matthew 18:21-35 (You must forgive others 'not seven times, but seventy-seven times' or 'seventy times seven times')

In short, you must be willing to forgive. Infinitely. Enough said.

Today's the day when virtually everyone is Irish. Even those you know aren't Irish celebrate today. In the large Irish-American enclaves, parades take place. In Chicago, there are two parades; the Chicago River gets a dye job; and the center pavement stripe on either State Street or Michigan Avenue is painted green. Or at least it used to.

And it strikes me as odd that one of this country's most well known Catholic universities has a French name (Notre Dame) but whose athletic teams are called 'The Fighting Irish.'

I have a feeling the real Irish folks are having to forgive us Americans for tromping all over their patron saint's feast day.

Because March 17 always falls during Lent, the Catholic Church at large more or less ignores it. Even on the Emerald Isle, the 'celebration' doesn't get the same hype as it does here in the USA.

A few things to note about Patrick. I assume you know he's actually British or possibly Welsh, born late in the 4th Century. His father was a Roman official and a deacon (yes, blame us guys with the water balloons).

At the age of 16, Patrick was captured by Celtic raiders and spent six years as a slave swineherd on an Irish farm, where he learned the Irish language, until he escaped to Europe. There he studied theology and was sent by Pope Celestine I back to Ireland to teach the natives about Christianity.

He landed at Wicklow in 432 and soon established religious communities and churches, despite the relentless opposition of the established religion of the pagan Druids - a religion that in succeeding centuries was fiercely suppressed.

Showing great courage, Patrick even preached the Gospel to the High King of Tara, and eventually the faith which he had brought to the Emerald Isle won over almost completely, as is evidenced even today. (Of course, there were many other Christian proselytisers who did the work besides Patrick, as well as many potentates and preachers who felt it their duty to destroy the indigenous religions.)

Patrick’s life story, as it has been passed down over the centuries, is delightfully replete with miraculous events and adventures. As every schoolchild knows, it was he who was responsible for the fact that there are no snakes or similar vermin in Ireland even yet. Of course, that sort of creature does not survive in the ecosystem of the country, any more than they would in northern Illinois or New Jersey. The snakes were symbolic of the pagan Druids.

Now Christianity, as well as Ireland, owes a big 'thank you' to Patrick. For awhile there it seemed that most American Catholic priests were of Irish descent; and three of the five largest Catholic populations (New York, Boston, and Chicago) have provided more of their share of young men and women to the priesthood and religious life.

Legend holds that Patrick used the shamrock, the three-leaved clover, to explain the Trinity to the High King of Tara. Over time, many of the high figures in Celtic mythology became saints of the Roman Catholic Church. Many of the traditions we associate with Halloween also come from Celtic tradition and have become either Christianized or secularized (read 'commercialized') over time.

That corned beef sandwich? Better found at a Jewish or Polish delicatessen. Or as my Irish-American cousin-in-law says, the link between corned beef and cabbage to Irish tradition is that "it's boiled meat and vegetables."

What makes this such a big day to everyone, then?

The actual beginning of spring, the vernal equinox, can fall over a three-day period between March 20-22. The weather for the most part starts cooperating early enough and in some places the grass is even green enough again. Yes, St. Patrick's day is close enough and is easy enough to remember; and we're so fed up with winter that it might as well be spring. Here in America, March 17 is about the imminence of springtime as much as it is about the life of a man who is ultimately responsible for a blending of two spiritual paths and spreading it elsewhere in the world. It's a party without nearly as many frills; but you can still send cards and decorate if you so choose.

Before anyone else starts attacking their keyboards, this isn't the first time that such a blending of traditions took place among Western religions. The Greek influence over most of the ancient world (from roughly 323 BCE to 146 BCE, arguably as late as 30 BCE), called the Hellenistic civilization, brought one big concept to the Jewish culture of that time and since.

It got many believing in life after death.

The resurrection.

That's one thing that had many of Jesus' contemporaries puzzled. Evidence of belief in an afterlife goes back to the paleolithic era. However, this was a relatively new thing to the Jewish scholars of the time, and not everybody bought into the concept. The Pharisees believed in it, but the Sadducees did not. So on top of Roman occupation, the Jews of Jesus' time were divided. Yet Jesus was preaching about eternal life in no uncertain terms. Not only was life after death possible, it was real; and He was going to turn the world upside down proving it.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Recap

Today's Word:
2 Kings 5:1-15 (Naaman the Syrian is cured of leprosy upon instruction by the prophet Elisha)
Psalm 42:2 & 3; 43:3-4 (My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God)
Luke 4:24-30 ("No prophet is accepted in his own native place")

In the wake of rediscovering that God is within us all, there were two tasks for me yesterday. One, put myself into my service role with humble dignity; the other, observe if the preaching on the Sunday readings came anywhere near my own musings. I carried out the first quite well. But this has been a season of surprises, and yesterday was no exception.

My role as song leader in the Catholic environment also doubles as master of ceremonies in a few ways. I welcome the congregation; announce and lead in the four hymns spread out during Mass, as well as lead in the several sung acclamations likewise spread out; and I make the community's announcements for the coming week. I've been trained to review the list of announcements ahead of time; once I tripped over the words "palm weaving" when a craftsman was going to show during the week to show how to weave artwork out of palm branches. A few of the harder of hearing (and it's an older congregation) somehow got the idea that an occultist was coming to a Catholic church to read lines on their hands.

Anyway, the last announcement regarded the St. Baldrick Foundation, an organization working on research for children who contract cancer. Many people associated with this foundation shave their heads in solidarity with the young patients, as chemotherapy causes most cancer patients to lose their hair. A challenge was presented: if the parish can raise $5K between now and the end of this month, our 69-year-old pastor will have his head shaved. This is a big thing because he's one of the few older men I know who isn't balding. (Even I have a bald spot on top.) This presented a challenge in itself: Keeping a straight, dignified face when making this announcement. So that also set the tone for much of my delivery, and I reached for my best classical announcer's voice. Yes, it was still there. Oh, the congregation at each of the three Masses where I served laughed at the prospect; but the message was successfully delivered. Now I'll try to get the picture of my parish priest/pastor sans his curly hair - for he'll undoubtedly be bald for Easter.

(Pastor Paul at Cornerstone also had his hair cut short recently, though he told me it was because he was getting ready for cycling season. Maybe there's some deal where Illinois pastors have to cut off their hair, some secret society, maybe the 'Friends of Samson' - who knows?)

The second task - listen closely to the homily and see if my reflection (Sunday's post) hit any of the same points.

There are three deacons in my Catholic congregation (well, four if you count me) - two preach on a rotating basis and the third is involved in the adult catechetical program called RCIA (the process of bringing adult converts into Catholicism). As it turned out, the two deacons each gave a sermon this weekend.

The first hit on the ambience many of our churches face, the atmosphere likened to a museum or library, where much in the way of spirituality appears lacking or missing. But he went a rather roundabout way to get there, and took more time than the average Catholic sermon. It seemed rather down.Ah! Something with which I have somehow become identified!

After the first Mass on Sunday (a repeat of Saturday), Father D, the pastor, came looking for me. I thought maybe he was going to tell me not to make the announcement about the St. Baldrick Foundation and the challenge, figuring he'd do it himself. Instead, he asks me what I thought of the deacon's homily. This is the second time in the last twelve months that Fr. D has sought me out to ask this sort of question. The first time was late last summer, when a guest priest gave a homily over marriage that also seemed to fall off-center. Out of all people, does Fr. D see obvious signs in my body language that I'm paying attention?

Well, he asked me; so I told him. The whole thing; the rambling, the point I thought he was making, and that it seemed to be down rather than have at least one uplifting point at the end. And in the next breath, I explained that I had taken homiletics because I was ordained fifteen years ago and served for five before moving out of the diocese in which I'd lived.
He might have already known - the music director knew me from those days, she might have told him at some time. But I had never told him before, though I had considered doing so several times. In the end, it probably doesn't matter. I am glad that I told him, though.

I also mentioned that I've been posting this blog as a Lenten discipline, and that in doing so I became aware of a trap that is largely one of our own making. Lent calls us to be introspective. It is full of reminders that we often fail to live as we should. That we forget to pull in and reflect on the blessings we receive in spite of our own weaknesses is a serious issue, especially to a minister.

The homily given by the second deacon was more on target - speaking of righteous anger, the kind of thing we should have and motivate us toward removing some of the pet peeves we otherwise tolerate. I'm not talking about UPS losing a package for which I've been waiting three weeks; I'm talking about things like the ineptitude of the people we trust in high places (and I'm not limiting that to government). I'm also talking about how, even after setting a positive example and being open to discuss issues with members of our extended family, some still go off and make an error in judgment that is going to cost them dearly for years to come, perhaps the rest of their mortal lives.

To sum up, most everything has been illuminating and uplifting - another surprise in a season of surprises.

This week has a lot of significance to many. Three of the five weekdays have special events, and they will be given their due. On Friday I will continue my story and in this installment, I will not forget to count the blessings.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Cleaning And Purging

The Third Sunday of Lent
The Ides of March, 2009

Today's Word:
Exodus 20:1-17 (The Ten Commandments)
Psalm 19:8 (Lord, you have the words of everlasting life)
1 Corinthians 1:22-25 (To all who are called, Christ is the power and the wisdom of God)
John 2:13-25; or Matt 21:12-17 or Mark 11:15-17 or Luke 19:45-48 (Jesus clears the Temple; "Zeal for your house will consume me!")

Exodus 17:3-7 (God provides water to the Israelites at Massah and Meribah in the desert)
Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9 (If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts)
Romans 5:1-2, 5-8 (We 'boast' in hope of the glory of God, and hope does not disappoint)
John 4:5-42 (Jesus speaks of 'living' water to a Samaritan woman at a well; she has a conversion experience)

Roll on up, for my price is down.
Come on in for the best in town.
Take your pick of the finest wine.
Lay your bets on this bird of mine.

Roll on up, for my price is down.
Come on in for the best in town.
Take your pick of the finest wine.
Lay your bets on this bird of mine.

What you see is what you get
No one's been disappointed yet
Come on in, give us a try
There is nothing you can't buy

Name your price, I got everything.
Come and buy, It's going fast.
Borrow cash on the finest terms.
Hurry now while stocks still last.

JESUS: My temple should be a house of prayer,
But you have made it a den of thieves.
Get out! Get out!

--The Temple (excerpt) from Jesus Christ Superstar (1970)
Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice

Jesus may have gone to his crucifixion meek and gentle as a lamb. He may also have been a man of peace and a great storyteller. Here, however, we have one of the only times in all of the Gospels where Jesus 'loses his cool.'

It is not certain when in time this took place. John places this event early in his narrative; saying only that the Jewish feast of Passover was approaching. As Jesus' death also took place on the cusp of Passover, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber place this scene in Jesus Christ Superstar after Jesus enters Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday (aka "Crabgrass" Sunday, according to my son); this is indicated in the other gospels. In that context, it could be construed that this public act of Jesus is a turning point; from that time on it becomes easier for those plotting against Jesus to make false accusations against him, ones that stick.

It strikes me as odd that the thing over which Jesus was angered never really left the Church.

In 1st Century Palestine, pilgrims came from all over the known territory to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. Due to the complexity of the Law, a lot of goods and services needed to be available. Currency exchanges, markets for the animals that might be needed for sacrifices, were a necessary thing. What was it that angered Jesus so?

It might possibly have been that those who ran these operations were not charging fair prices. For example, if you've ever had to buy an item at a convenience store or at an airport terminal shop, you pay a substantially higher markup on that item. Wal-Mart they're not. A good portion of that was pure profit.

It may also have been possible that the Temple authorities were taking a cut of the proceeds. While that might be accepted in today's secular society, at that time and in that place it was very much taboo.

It's also possible that this was where the action was in Jerusalem, and so many people tried to eak out a living in a relatively small area that it made it very difficult for the pilgrims to make it to the area they were trying to ultimately reach - the places where they would pray and offer their sacrifices, in accordance with the Law.

Today, while we don't have banks and supply stores in the vestibules of our churches, we still have bake sales, youth group sales, even the occasional 'baptismal' car wash in the parking lot. And in some of our most beloved churches, places of artistic as well as spiritual beauty, there is a growing museum-like atmosphere. All of us let it get that way.

I could rationalize this to the nth degree:

-The bake sales and such ultimately support the needs of the congregation or community at-large.

-"Tourists" are not discouraged to stop to pray; and from my experience, many of them do.

-Rehearsing for the service in the worship space/sanctuary is necessary. It is a distraction, but cannot be avoided.

-Prayer and reflection can be done anywhere, and is encouraged. How do you bring Christ into the world if you don't pray/praise outside of church services? Besides, in the heat of an anxious moment, don't we pray wherever we are?

It strikes me that one of the freedoms we enjoy as Americans, summarized best as the separation of church and state (which allows for the freedom of religious practice, from the First Amendment of the US Constitution), has unfortunate backlash. We are given the mindset that separation between God and us is acceptable. Sacred scripture doesn't exactly support this, but it likewise doesn't keep it from happening.

There are some who see this and respond to the occasion; the old Baltimore Catechism #1 (Catholic) teaches that God is all-present, meaning:
"When we say that God is all-present we mean that He is everywhere."

A couple more that were brought to my attention in just the last nine hours:
"There is absolutely nothing that can truly separate man from God because God is indeed a part of every man, woman and child. It is a Divine Spark that is held in every living thing, and echoed in a different but harmonic fashion in every inanimate object that exists. The Divine Spark IS God, in a smaller condensed parcel." (written/shared yesterday by someone very near and dear to my heart)

"The Creator designed the earth to be self supporting --everything is interconnected and all things were created to be of service to each other. ... Religion is not separate from any part of our lives. Everything is spiritual and we are to view all matters in this way. Family is spiritual, work is spiritual, helping others is spiritual, our bodies are spiritual, our talk is spiritual, our thoughts are spiritual. We need to practice seeing all things as spiritual."
(Native American spirituality expressed by writers at the White Bison (whitebison.org) website)

And lastly, just moments ago:
"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? ... I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Paul of Tarsus, Romans 8:35, 38-39 - New International Version)

So, it would seem we're all guilty to some degree of allowing ourselves to be separated from God, who is everywhere. Shame on us! I will keep working on that. Purging something that's molded my behavior from Day 1 won't be easy; I'll need reminders to focus on that. I don't want to find myself purged or expelled from the presence of God. I'll have lots of company. I must continue to strive to find God's compassionate presence in all things, including those I don't appreciate as much; or in the unpleasant memories of my past.