Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Sign Needed But Not Quite Planned

June 28, 2009

Today's Word:
Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24 (from the Apocrypha, see text below)
Psalm 30:2-13 (I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me)
2 Corinthians 8:7-15 (For the sake of equality, share from your abundance to assist those in need)
Mark 5:21-43 (Jesus heals two people based on their faith and that of their loved ones)

Note: The Book of Wisdom is one of the books of the Old Testament accepted into the Catholic canon of Scripture but not found in most Bibles used in other Christian denominations. As such, I am posting this reading as it is proclaimed at this weekend's Catholic services.

God did not make death,
nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.
For he fashioned all things that they might have being;
and the creatures of the world are wholesome,
and there is not a destructive drug among them
nor any domain of the netherworld on earth,
for justice is undying.
For God formed man to be imperishable;
the image of his own nature he made him.
But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world,
and they who belong to his company experience it.
(Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24, New American Bible)

This week's sign for our times:

There were several sad stories that hit this last week in a relentless fashion. One story after another - sometimes without even enough time for one story to sink in before the next set in. To summarize:

Sunday 6/21 - It is announced that Walter Cronkite (the "Most Trusted Man in America") is gravely ill.

Monday 6/22 - Jon & Kate Gosselin (parents to 8 kids, chronicled on TLC) announce that they are separating; Kate files for divorce. TLC announces that their TV show is going on hiatus until August.

Tuesday 6/23 - Ed McMahon, longtime sidekick to Johnny Carson, host of the TV show Star Search and assisting master of ceremonies to Jerry Lewis' fundraising Muscular Dystrophy telethon dies at age 86.

Wednesday 6/24 - Chicago news anchor John Calloway (longtime host of WTTW's Chicago Tonight) dies in Racine, Wisconsin; of a heart attack, at age 72.

Thursday 6/25 - Actress Farah Fawcett, long remembered for her role in the 1970s series Charlie's Angels, dies at age 62 after a nearly three-year battle with breast cancer. This is eclipsed that afternoon with news of the death of pop music icon Michael Jackson at age 50, of cardiac arrest.

Of course, there are many who suffer losses, and many more who die, on a daily basis. In the chronicles American history, the natural disaster of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the loss of life on September 11, 2001 far outweigh what's happened in the last week. Still, that this has all happened in a relatively short timeframe when other weeks had nothing this notable was enough to prompt me to bring out the "Dead End" sign.

There are two distinct things about this particular sign. The obvious meaning, along with its partner, "No Outlet", should remind us that we may find ourselves stuck in a situation where there is no way out other than to retrace our steps, or acknowledge our failures. To keep traveling where there is no roadway is usually futile and dangerous.

But the "Dead End" sign, in the light of the passage from the Book of Wisdom and in the context of the noted events of the last week, acts as a reminder that one day we will all face that sign.

Now wait a minute...didn't Jesus Christ conquer and vanquish death? Why yes, that is what Christians believe.

But we still die, don't we? Yes, we least the human body which is the temple, the dwelling place of the spirit, will one day cease to exist.

Christ conquered death and turned it into the bridge between a life veiled from God's presence - although God is most certainly here - to a life where the veil is removed and all wisdom and understanding is brought to light. The sacred author writes that God does not rejoice in the destruction of the living. But in receiving the gift of free choice, humanity chose that very thing. God's love and protection wasn't enough; humanity chose to play God. Through the greed and dissatisfaction of many came suffering. We have proven in so many ways that we are often our own worst enemy.

When the ultimate end comes for people we know and have admired, be it the famous or our own friends and family, we recall what these people gave us and pray that God has indeed gathered them unto Himself. We try to peer into that veil and silently wonder what it is like just beyond it. Ask ten people among the living and you'll likely get ten different answers.

Life, no matter how long or short yours or mine will be, is a precious gift. Each day is filled with potential. Carpe diem. Take the day, and find the sacred in it.

Prayer: O Lord, my God, you are with me always. May your presence reassure me in difficult times, and may I never forget you in happy moments. May I rest assured that you will meet me at the only "dead end" that I must traverse.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Signs and Wonders on the Road That Leads To Heaven

Summer is here, and people are planning trips here and there. Some will vacation to favorite places far away, some will visit extended family, and others will make trips to local attractions they may have passed up before. It means people will travel through places that aren't as familiar. Even some of the familiar places will look different as roadway improvements change the landscape and  landmarks.

When I visited Holy Hill last April, I found a book that interested me. Called Signs of Faith, it's a series of short devotionals taken from common traffic signs. It's published by Traveling Word - you can find out more about their products at their website, (In addition to Signs of Faith they offer another devotional book: Agape Latte - An Invigorating Cup of Love, in the shape of a coffee cup designed to fit in the cup holder of your car.)

The thought of a series of devotions based on everyday signs impressed me enough that for the next few Sundays I will post such an offering here. So I don't infringe on any copyrights, I'll avoid using the signs that the Traveling Word folks used. (If I use any I'll mention it and approach the devotional from a different perspective.)

With that in mind, here's my first attempt.
Verse: "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you" (Matthew 7:7).

When you see an "Information" sign or kiosk in your travels, remember that God holds the answers to all life's questions, even those most difficult. I'm also reminded of a common secular proverb of our time: The only stupid question is the one that is not asked. When life seems to bear more questions than answers, or when answers are elusive, take this to God in prayer.

Prayer: Lord, my God, may your Holy Spirit guide me in your ways to help me when I have questions or am looking for information.

Until next time, May God be with you...

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Fathers' Day

Today's Word:
Job 38:1-11 (God addresses Job after his long series of trials, tribulations, and temptations)
Psalm 107:23-31 (God's power in nature is evident in a storm at sea)
2 Corinthians 5:14-17 (Whoever is in Christ is a new creation)
Mark 4:35-41 (Jesus calms the storm at sea)

(It's interesting to note that the passage from 2 Corinthians was featured last week at Cornerstone; and this week's passage from Mark's Gospel crosses my denominational fence - it's featured in both the Catholic and Methodist services. This post, however, may not have a connection with any of the readings or the pastoral themes which accompany them.)

Even though I'm a father, and have been one for over seventeen years, writing about fatherhood is not a simple thing for me.

President Obama has gone on record during his election campaign (and reiterated this last week) that more fathers need to get the message that their role in parenting is not minimal. I agree.

Mr. Obama's ideology in this regard comes from his background - his father abandoned him and his mother. I can't identify with that experience; my dad's been in my life as long as I've lived. Still, I can name other moms and kids who are growing up without the influence of a father. My dad lived without a father in his life from the time he was nine years old; his father died at that time in his life. And I also know others who live without the presence of a dad because they chose for some reason, to live for themselves rather than take on the sacrifices fatherhood demands.

I can't say my father and I are close. He couldn't make it to every last thing I was doing as a kid; he was working hard to support a family of six. He got involved in Boy Scouts as my brothers and I came of age - but he tended to take a back seat to all of what went on rather than one-on-one interaction. When I got into trouble, even though it was accidental, I got the interminal three-minute lecture about doing the right thing.

But even though I've had trouble seeing it, I know he's been there.

When I was ordained, he filmed the entire Mass and offered to make copies of the tape for my colleagues. When tragedy struck my wife and I, it was my dad who said I had "great faith." When our son was born, he was the first to arrive at the hospital to see his latest grandchild.

It's difficult for me to properly thank him, to demonstrate how I genuinely appreciate all he has done and continues doing. Words seem so hollow and empty, unable to express how deeply such feelings truly run. Would you like to know why?

We come to believe in God in a Trinity of Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Forget those sacred places of worship for a minute; forget all those ministers of the Church you refer to as "Father".  When you're growing up, and you're lucky enough to have a father's influence throughout your childhood, your father doesn't just represent God; let's face it, in those tender years your father is God. Then you reach some incomplete conclusions of what kind of work comes with the territory, and that the person you thought could withstand everything is vulnerable. And he's pushing you further toward adulthood and independence, even though it's too soon and not what either of you might want. And on top of all of it, he wants to remain in your life but doesn't - and can't - demand it of you.

My father taught me in his own way of example the basics to get me started in whatever path of life I wished to take. At first, like Luke's prodigal son, I went down paths that weren't so secure. But when love finally turned my life around, those basics were put to use.

It's not easy being a dad. Moms have this natural ability to nurture and bond with their children; dads have to cultivate this in their own way. We spend a lot of time wondering if our sons and daughters look up to us - and then have to do damage control when they realize you aren't God and can't give them their every desire (especially that video game or the Hannah Montana concert tickets they want more than anything else at the moment).

Make no mistake; even the best of us have wandering thoughts. But the 'real' man will not entertain such thoughts for more than a nanosecond. He will set all that aside. He will not force any agenda unless it is truly needed.

I posted back around Mothers' Day about the many sacrifices they make. Dads have to make sacrifices too; less obvious and made with little fanfare. Dads must work in concert and union with Moms who bear the brunt of raising the children. They must be ready to step in and do anything - even things in which they've had little practical experience - to build a strong sense of unity. Even if blessed with the 'traditional' role of 'the man of the house', he must listen closely to what his wife and children tell him, and at all times, strive to maintain a sense of compassion in all things.

To all of you dads out there, whether you know me or are just passing by, I hope you have acquired the stuff it takes to be devoted to this important vocation (or are in the process of acquiring it). I don't know anybody in real life who subscribes to the Homer Simpson model of fatherhood and is successful. Rather, it seems that the successful model requires a man of faith and prayer, especially when all seems most uncertain. He must be a rock of refuge and yet tender and compassionate at the same time. He must constantly work at looking at not only his own vision, but to see and accept that same vision in the eyes of his wife and children.

After seventeen years, I am far from an expert on fatherhood and parenting - and I am challenged by things many fathers will never experience. But I have experienced what it's like to be a dad. I wouldn't trade my life for anything. Thank you, Dad, for this blessed experience and for your love. It's that cultivated sense of love I am doing my best to share with my wife and pass on to my son.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Trinity of Deer at My Door

Trinity Sunday

Today's Word:
Deuteronomy 4:32-40 (Fix in your heart that the Lord is God above, and there is no other)
Psalm 33:4-9, 18-22 (May your kindness, O Lord, be upon us who have put our hope in you)
Romans 8: 14-17 (Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God)
Matthew 28:16-20 (The Great Commission: "Baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit...I am with you always, until the end of time")

And: Philippians 4:1-23 (Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God)

wasn't going to start with this...but three deer appeared on the lawn in our apartment complex this morning.

Deer mingling with humans are not all that uncommon anymore - development has cut into much of their habitat. There are enough "greenways" in our area that would provide relatively safe passage for them. But our complex is bounded by two rather busy highways, so the deer take rather large risks in getting here. Sunday is perhaps the only morning of the week when I can't hear the noise of moving vehicles out my window; at least that worked in favor of the deer. I hope they find what they're looking for.

God loves you so much that he gave you life.

These words came transliterated from the pastor of the Catholic parish at which I sing. He used them in his homily last night, borrowing them from the Bishop of Joliet, who was using similar words at the ordination of three new priests for the diocese. Hearing them was likened to being nudged awake from a restless sleep; the kind where you wake up foggier than the sky outside.

Among the other things that I noted yesterday was that the readings wove their way around themes of trust and hope.

I have to admit that, as much as I wonder if my writing has had any impact on anyone, it has had a positive impact on me. I was a bit upset with myself that I had run out of steam in the last couple of weeks. I feared I had more than overstayed my welcome with those who had asked me to share this with them in real time.

Yet those words got me to thinking about the life God gave my family and me, and the challenges that are part of them, challenges that seem to multiply exponentially. Discovering that the causes of many of the challenges came about because I matter-of-factly placed trust in things of the world. But just as I would look for the lowest-cost answer, the one which would require the least amount of personal change or sacrifice, why would I put my trust in that larger, impotent part of the world's consciousness that acts and thinks as I do?

That's what I did. In order to live a 'healthy' lifestyle, I chose to eat things that were less healthy for my body than things I ate before. I gave up sugar for artificially sweetened foods that have enough chemical modification in them that prolonged consumption will adversely effect all sorts of things. Sure, I lost 40 pounds. But the wall I hit after that and some of the physical effects I now feel are making me rethink how much I can trust global consciousness - or, as the prophet Isaiah said,

We had all gone astray like sheep...(or deer?)...each following his own way... (53:6a).

We are learning that there is a link between the chemical additives and preservatives found in what we eat and neurological diseases such as Autism and AD(H)D on one end of life to Alzheimer's and Parkinson's on the other. There are many signs that were and are definitely misread. I have to admit I was still feeling overwhelmed by all of this as late as yesterday afternoon. There is the notion of throwing in the towel, as it were. I mean, we're all going to die eventually - but this is the temptation!!! What kind of response is this to "God loves you so much that he gave you life"??

I have always held out hope that God in his infinite goodness would provide the answers; and sure enough, they're there. They're not found without struggle and they don't come without trial and error. Know thyself. To thine own self be true...yet also, Be still and know that I am God.

The Trinitarian aspect of God is a necessary part of the way of life to the Christian. Jesus may well be in the center, but this is not complete without the Holy Spirit working in the world through each of us - and this is also incomplete without acknowledging the Creator which is above all and yet in all things. Our relationship takes on a linear yet three-dimensional, internal as well as external, character. Putting it all in balance is not easy. But if there's one place our trust and our hope truly belongs, it is in this relationship, that we might be guided to the best decisions and life choices and the toil and labor that come with them.

The return to 'ordinary' time should not mean a return to the ways things were before. In my corner of creation, many such ways cannot be allowed to return, physically or spiritually. Like the trio of deer who wandered by my window this morning, we must continue our journey; searching for the things we need, things that God has placed in our path if we but search for them with sincerity, diligence, perserverence, and with the hope and trust that all our choices be made in love for each other.

also learned last night of the passing on May 28 of the Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Joliet, Roger Kaffer. I had seen him several times as he celebrated Confirmation over the years. He had a very practical way of relating Christ to young people, even at 80 years old. As is customary among Catholics, memorial cards were printed after his death. The text that follows was printed on the back of his memorial card. I don't know if it's something he wrote or is attributed to him, but I hope so; as a priest and bishop he might have had the inspiration vocalize these words and/or put them to paper.

God's Will

O my Jesus,
I do not wish to surrender myself to You as a rebel,
subdued in body but not in spirit;

Nor to submit to your divine will with the quiet despair
of one who has no alternative;

Nor to accept it with the cold indifference of a stoic;

Nor to resign myself as a self-pitying martyr;

Nor to have to conform as one who has great difficulty
in bringing himself around to seeing things
from Your divine point of view;

Nor only lovingly to abandon myself.

No, my Jesus. Rather, I hope, with the help of your grace,
always and in all ways enthusiasticallyto embrace your divine will,
with the fervent prayer that the union
between my will and Your divine will
may be the most perfect imitation possible for me
of that union which existed and exists
between your human and divine wills.

And thus will make me one with the Father's will,
as is Your only concern - and mine:
Not just the most important thing,
but the one thing I really care about!

--Roger L. Kaffer (1927-2009)
Auxiliary Bishop, Diocese of Joliet