The Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Labor Day Weekend
Isaiah 35:4-7 (Say to those who are frightened: Be strong, fear not!)
Psalm 146:7-10 (The orphan and the widow the Lord sustains, but the way of the wicked He thwarts)
James 2:1-5, 14-17 (Faith without works is like a screen door on a submarine)
Mark 7:31-37 ("Ephphatha! Be opened!")
Observations on this holiday that once marked the end of summer (that seems to have been taken by "National Night Out") and is supposed to honor our work and labor (yet to enjoy it generally forces somebody to work all the more):
More and more it appears that the places you once enjoyed that cost very little have become unaffordable. Case in point - on a beautiful day a lot like those we've enjoyed lately, on something of a whim, my wife and I introduced ourselves to the beauty that is the Chicago Botanical Garden. It is indeed a great place to visit, and I would recommend it to anyone - provided you don't take your own car. There is no admission charge to the park itself, even though there are fees to a number of seasonal exhibits. But the parking charge, controlled by the Cook County Forest Preserve District, has increased from $8 per car (when we first visited maybe five years ago) to $20 now. You can't picnic on the grounds - you can in the parking area and there is a smattering of tables; but this time of year picnicking is not that great an idea due to the onslaught of the hornets. So add another $20 - $30 for a meal out, and suddenly a nice inexpensive outing becomes cost prohibitive.
I have to say - thank God that at least in most of Illinois, the state, county and municipal parks do not charge simply to walk and enjoy the scenery. I know that in many places such is not true. We were able to change our plans and enjoy a great walk at a lovely forest preserve not far from home. It seemed that many other couples and families had the same idea.
For lunch, we headed to a place we hadn't entered in years - Chuck E. Cheese.
Now, dear readers, I sense your snickering. Hear me out.
The not-so-great pizza place with an act has been something of a refuge for my wife and I. Our son heads off to game land with his cup of tokens (reminder to self - never take him to a riverboat casino), and we get uninterrupted privacy; a chance to talk, plan, get an indication of what's on each other's minds and such. Even though he's now 17-1/2, there are still a number of games and attractions that appeal to him.
It was wonderful to observe on this visit that my son has become much more judicious in his decisions of what games to play, effectively stretching out the time it takes to spend the tokens. When he was younger, he'd exhaust his supply within the twenty minutes prep time for the pizza, and then be looking for more with only a scant glance at the food.
Another breakthrough was apparent in the way his social world has expanded . This time, he was more observant of our reaction of what he was doing. Further, he included other kids in his playtime. As an autistic, he has at times been completely engrossed in game play to the point that anyone nearby is completely oblivious to him.
Lastly, the place still does everything they can to give a family a safe place to enjoy a meal and entertainment at a reasonable price. Can't complain about that! So...I think maybe son will get a return pass a couple more times. Maybe even a party with Mom and Dad on his 18th birthday.
We got home and caught the last couple of hours of Jerry Lewis' MDA fund-raising telethon. This has been an annual Labor Day staple for 44 years. Lewis, now in his eighties, is struggling to maintain a stage presence. A lot of the big name talent of his time have died over the years; the most recent being Ed McMahon, who acted as Master of Ceremonies for many years. The telethon has lost much of its punch and appeal over the years, yet Lewis still manages to tag his corporate buddies to the tune of $60 million. A tough act, given the recession we're in.
Thinking about it this morning, I was prompted to consider how charitable I am. I prefer to do things at the local level, as I am fully aware that there are people suffering in my own neighborhood. I know there are homeless; I know people are hurting, and I try my best to meet that first. It's not that I don't appreciate the need to find treatments for people with catastrophic illnesses; we all deal with one or another of them. Some deal with more than one at a time.
What I observed that bothers me the most is the depths that people will sink to in order to appeal to your sense of guil...umm, charity. A local business pledges to match the total contributions received in a three-minute period. But when the clock gets down to ten seconds, it's suddenly reset for another three minutes...then four more, then five more, and another three, and still another two. This went on at least eight times during one local break.
If you participated in that, would you feel that you were living your faith, as the apostle James exhorts us? I am not sure.
I had planned an educational field-trip to Chicago with my son tomorrow. The main objective was to see how commuter trains operate; to read a timetable and schedule of fares, to know how to find your train in a big terminal like Union Station (not unlike finding Platform 9-3/4 to get to Hogwarts, if you've read Harry Potter). However, Oprah Winfrey has other ideas. She's managed to close down three blocks of the Magnificent Mile (the posh Michigan Avenue business district) to tape the first show of her new season in front of fifty thousand adoring fans. Among her guests - the hottest act currently in pop music, the Black-Eyed Peas (21 straight weeks at the top of the charts) with a troupe of 2500 (reported) dancers. Where are they going to put them all? And what about the people who have to actually, say, work in that area? Is this another ploy that says We know how to throw a party! in order to secure hosting the 2016 Summer Olympics?
We'll make another stab at public transportation closer to Christmas...taking the free trolley between shopping centers at the regional shopping mall.
The other day, I heard a news story about a series of TV ads that the three local Catholic dioceses will run in December. Developed by a ministerial group named Catholics Come Home (website at same, without the spaces, plus 'dot org'), they're mission is to return 'wayward' Catholics to Sunday Mass.
As clergy, I should be fully supportive of this. Like the fund raising for "Jerry's Kids, " however, I'm sensing a mixed-message.
I can't say these folks didn't do their homework. They report all kinds of statistics designed to make everything look appealing, welcoming, even sympathetic. Let's face it though. If you're in their target audience, you're a big-time sinner. They may not say so outright, but then they don't say anything about sins the Church may have committed to drive the disenfranchised away. Also notably lacking is any comment about issues facing the Church at large; issues that the Magisterium, the teaching body of the Church, has had no problem asserting its position in no uncertain terms. So, to some otherwise faithful people, the place to which they're being urged to come home is no different than the place they left. That just isn't enough.
I hope and I pray that each person sincerely seeking Christ will encounter him. I know it will be enhanced by finding a vibrant faith community. But that encounter doesn't always happen "in church." It didn't for Paul of Tarsus or Francis of Assisi.
And that, at last, brings me to the last of the "Signs for Our Times." As the traveling season ends and the patterns of life keep us closer to our dwellings, it is time to set aside our journey from that perspective and leave you with two thoughts. First, the sign:
And with all the confusion, to whom should we go for directions?
I surely hope for that.
Wherever you are on your spiritual journey, however rough the road may be, know that God is near.
Be open to God's presence, always.