Of Men, Mice, Mysteries and Paradoxes

As a Roman Catholic I have the luxury – nay, necessity – of “Confession” (or, post-Vatican II: “Reconciliation” – we confess to be reconciled, so I guess there’s no difference).  During this process, past “indiscretions” (aka, “sins”) are voiced aloud to a priest whom you may or may not know, and who may or may not know you.  The idea is to wipe the slate clean: after the priest finishes the Absolution, all that you mentioned (as well as all you didn’t mention thru oversight – some of us have poor memories) is no more.  As Christ told Saint Theresa, “I forgot.”

So, it’s all water under the bridge, forgiven and forgotten.  Move on: tomorrow will present many new and different opportunities to land you right back into the little-bitty room with a veil between you and your alter Christus.

Maybe.

Trouble is, I can’t forget my “indiscretions.”  I wish I could.  I do feel forgiven – that part is true.  But, despite my abysmal recall of most things, there is are a great number things that haunt me.

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Take my first daughter.  She’s nearing forty years old.  I walked out on her and her mother when she was only 13.  She’s never forgiven me.  In fact, if anything, her hatred of me has only intensified.  We live only about two hours apart (with traffic here in Puget Sound, could be three hours), yet we haven’t seen each other in over seven years (something Biblical about that?  Maybe, but that is strictly a mathematical accounting.)  No phone calls.  Ever.  The occasional email; and when I say “occasional” I mean once, or twice a year.

She is apparently alive and well: her Facebook page says she went to Standing Rock last month.  After she received the check I sent her for her birthday.  She has also posted her support of everyone who is not white or male or Christian (esp Catholic).  Pretty funny how she and I both support the Stand with Standing Rock movement, yet we are so different otherwise.  Dunno if that’s the “men” or the “mice” or the “mystery.”  Also pretty funny that she went, but I have the t-shirt (no, really).

Last Christmas (dunno if she still calls it that), she sent a box of books that she no longer wanted.  About half I read immediately (starting with Kurlansky’s story of the oyster and NYC); the other half are in the stack by my bed (which is about two feet high).  Yeah: a care package.  Go figure.  She cashed that check, too.  Never said thanks; but I guess good manners is a bridge too far?

I wonder what it feels like to have that much hatred?  Jesus tells us to love our enemies, for even the pagans love their friends.  I’m old enough to have compiled a long list of people who have rubbed me the wrong way, and for all I know, someone is out there gunning for me.  But, I have no enemies; and like the tree that falls in the woods, it takes two to tango.

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Two Christmases ago, my wife announced to those gathered around my sister’s dinner table that she was pregnant, but not to share the news: she wanted to be the one to tell the world.  Okay, very personal information (is there anything more personal than being pregnant?), and she wanted to tell her own story.  Silly me: how much more reasonable can you get?  My sister posted the news on her Facebook page that night.  My wife was devastated.

For the next fourteen months, we lived slightly more than half a mile apart.  My sister’s job was only two blocks from our house.  She never came by (yes, as in “never”).  The Twin’s birth came and went (I got a text message).  Their first Christmas came and went.  My sister did send a birthday card for their First Birthday (by this time, we had moved: we were  now about an hour away).  My sister has never seen the Greatest Joy in my life.  What’s that hate feel like?

Since I have been around the block a few times, and around the world a few times, too, I have seen a few things.  While I am not the type of person that usually gets invited to parties, it is hard for me to imagine family members who rue the day they met me.  To say nothing of non-family members.

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The Twins are just 17 months old.  Today, in fact.  What do I teach them, and how do I do it?

I was able to spend a few minutes with them yesterday.  As I played with them, watched them, I thought how wonderful children are.  They are so purely children.  They are always in character, always act in accord with their natures.  That’s one part of my life.  The other significant part are the adults I work with at the job (I hate) that pays the bills.  Could the difference be any greater?  Children always behave childlike.  Adults sometimes act their ages, but sometimes act childish.  Which is a shame: saying someone is childish is an insult to children.

What I will teach my kids is that there is a supreme being, which in my parlance I call “GOD.”  He has a Son, with a real human name: Jesus Christ.  Their love is called the Holy Spirit by some.  I will teach them to be human (no person learns how to be an animal, all they need is permission for that), regardless of how many candles they put on their cake.  They are not the center of anyone’s universe and someday life as they know it will end.  You are a pilgrim on a journey while you breathe.  Your destination is wholly dependent on how you live your journey because you decide what steps you take.

We are well into the First Week of Advent as I type this.  The seasonal journey to the manger in the cave has begun.  I pray for my daughter and my sister every day.  I pray for my Twins and my wife.  Today, as I pray the Rosary, I pray that the Luminous Mysteries will shed some light for them.

Hillary Destroyed Her Own Campaign

(This is the title of an article by Betsy Woodruff in The Daily Beast, as posted on the MSN.com website.)

I have never been a part of the inner workings of any political campaign, but I am under the impression that a lot of people do a lot of planning over many months, if not years.  And so, it is beyond me that the “mis-steps,” or “mis-cues,” that everyone agrees emerged in Clinton’s campaign surprised everyone involved – least of all Hillary.

Or, maybe they did.  As Betsy says in her article, “’I guess I know the answer,’ Tanden wrote back, ‘they wanted to get away with it’.”  This is followed with “[Clinton’s] penchant for secrecy.”  Like a freight train out of control, my next thought was “Nixon.”  Dontcha just love the irony?  Apparently, what brought down Richard Nixon “destroyed” Hillary Clinton.

Is Clinton unaware of what happened to Nixon, or did she think she could “get away with it?” (Is that redundant?)

Obviously, Hillary Clinton has decades of political experience, if only as an observer – but I think, an astute one?  Then we have Donald Trump, whom no one has accused of being politically savvy, or an astute political observer, or frankly, of even a business genius.

Someplace on the web, I saw “What Trump says doesn’t bother me as much as what Clinton has done.”  So, as little as he’s done, and as much as he’s said – i.e., done too little and said too much – he evidently couldn’t lose to a seasoned political warrior – who should have a resume a mile long and a silver tongue.

Thomas Friedman said he now felt homeless in America.  Considering the well publicized comments that Clinton and her staff made about “the Catholic Spring,” I was well on my way to looking at a Canadian visa.  True, Trump’s bombast is inflammatory, but between Obama’s treatment of the Defense of Marriage Act (which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996), and Hillary’s insistent that religious beliefs need to be changed, I didn’t feel so much cast adrift as shoved out the door.

I won’t mention Clinton’s vice-president’s comments about the Roman Catholic Church changing.

Did Trump win, or did Clinton lose?  It seems that way.  It seems that Clinton self-destructed and Trump was the last one standing.  Basically, Clinton won the race to the bottom.

I could never have voted for Hillary for pretty much all the same reasons I could never buy a used car from her husband.  Which is both interesting and sad: I was a card-carrying Democrat during the Carter years.  Now, I can’t distance myself far enough away from the Party of Death and Exclusion.

What now, eh?  Indeed.

 

 

Blind Guides

Not a day goes by that I don’t find yet another reason to be disgusted at both presidential candidates. Even if I ignore the past 40 years or so of experience voting for presidential candidates, I find that I would not shake the hand of either of this year’s candidates. In fact, if it was a dark and stormy night, like Puget Sound is currently experiencing, with the horizontal rain and the gale-force winds (and tree branches, etc. falling down around our ears), and I saw either candidate by the side of the road with a flat tire, or a gas can, I would try to find a puddle to drive thru. No, I won’t be moving to Canada, regardless of the outcome next month; but I will be steeling myself for the international ridicule that will descend on my beloved country.

Be that as it may, I can’t help but draw a very straight and very short line between the Pharisees of the Bible and the bishops of the USCCB.

In today’s Gospel reading (Luke 12:1-7), Jesus says to His disciples, Beware the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Boom! Like a lightning strike (yes, another weather reference), my first thought was the vast majority of the bishops of the USA that have kept their mouths shut this entire election cycle – and against a deluge of despicable behavior on both sides of the political aisle, have continued their silence. In Matthew 23:27 Jesus compares the Pharisees to whitened sepulchers that appear beautiful on the outside but are full of rotten, corrupt bones on the inside.

What I do hear from bishops are feeble attempts to propose the lesser of two evils; and those voices are diminishing. If anything, the Pharisees were too enthusiastic about protecting their faith; whereas the bishops are somehow becoming more lukewarm. And silent.

True enough, the laity of the Roman Catholic Church ought to follow the bishops. But, after the priest sex scandal that cost millions to cover-up, and incorporation of the Kumbaya Church of Nice (in the “Spirit of Vatican II”), I look around and find a vacuum of leadership – or the wrong kind (e.g., “Cardinal Dolan”). “Follow the bishops”? What, off a cliff? No thank you.

That America has gotten to this point, where both the political system and the Church have been hijacked does not bode well for the future. Altho some would debate how beneficial the Church has been for the development of western society, few would debate that it has been a factor, if not major player. Now, the Church leadership is falling all over itself trying to find new and creative ways to become lemmings to the latest secular fashion. At the same time, the quality of those in public office (pick anything – any office, any candidate, any incumbent) has steadily gone down the tubes. Cause and effect? Your choice. But, an “interesting” coincidence, nonetheless.

Honestly, I can’t think of a single politician that I think is doing a good job. No, really. However, I can think of some Church leaders that I do listen to: Cardinal Raymond Burke, Cardinal Robert Sarah and Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone leap to mind. Michael Voris over at ChurchMilitant.com has got my ear.

No doubt there are some politicians who are doing a good job, but they get drowned in the hype of those who aren’t. No doubt there are others in the Church that have not lost the Faith. Sadly, I do not believe they will prevail.

The land of my birth will look very different as my children grow up – and not for the better. The Catholic Church will, in the words of Joseph Ratzinger, become smaller. The size of the Church will be a combination of what the Church is doing to itself, and what the government is doing to it. Hopefully, the quality of the Catholic Church will increase.

Jesus must increase, while we must decrease. Where have I heard that before? (hint: John 3:30)

 

 

Chocolate Cake

After the last two weeks of political conventions, it should come as no surprise that not everybody loves chocolate cake. Unlike both major political parties, chocolate cake makes sense. But, not everybody loves it. Why?

There is nothing inherently wrong or bad about chocolate cake (again, unlike both major political parties). Tho not everybody even has access to chocolate cake (ref political conventions, which are in our faces, 24/7; somehow, even the priest at Mass managed to point out current politics in his homily (to be accurate, he made some pointed observations about current politicians).

The list of what is wrong with American politics is long (proving once again, that while genius is limited, stupid is infinite); but I am at a loss to find even one thing wrong with chocolate cake.

To be slavishly accurate, it is “German Chocolate Cake” which is my own personal favorite (those in the know, know that the title really should be “German’s Sweet Chocolate Cake” – having nothing to do with anything at all Deutsch). Which I made for myself for my birthday for years, but this year, my wife has me helping a friend move on my birthday, so no cake. Yeah: too bad, so sad. Anyway…

True: nothing, in and of itself, “intrinsically evil” about chocolate cake. However, when there’s too much of it; that is a horse of a different color.

We never read the Bible at home while I was growing up; dunno why, ‘cause we went to Mass every Sunday and every Holy Day of Opportunity (I never liked the term “obligation” – so I’ve borrowed “day of opportunity” from someone else – apologies for not remembering well enough to give credit where credit is due), also “CCD” (the Catholic version of “Sunday School”), and I can’t forget prayers before every meal and at bed time. We even went to Mass while trekking across country during my dad’s two weeks of annual vacation. More religion than most, perhaps; but that was it, lock-stock-and-barrel.

For some reason, the parable of the fig tree has stood out since my earliest days. It always seemed so strange that Jesus killed that tree just because it didn’t have any figs. Whatever happened to “live and let live”? It wasn’t until recently that I discovered some commentary that explained the parable. It was probably the footnotes in the Nararre Bible; if not, then the Magnificat monthly magazine. In any event, I was a Catholic for sixty years without understanding that parable – so how much else have I not understood? The answer to that question boggles the mind. Or, maybe not.

The whole point is not “what are you about – what are you doing?” The whole point is simply, “are you doing the right thing?” That fig tree had lots and lots of leaves; one would think, a good thing for a tree – especially in a desert climate – to have. Like chocolate cake, nothing inherently evil about leaves.

But, figs it did not have. And, it should have. That is the point.

It should have had figs. It was the season for figs and it had none. Lot of leaves – lots of sizzle; no figs – no steak. So, the tree was not doing what it should. Tho it was standing out there, minding its own business, making lots of leaves. Maybe it missed the memo. Unfortunately for the tree, Jesus called it; and the tree was busted.

Nothing wrong with chocolate cake, but chocolate cake is not what we should be about. Once in a while, leaves are a good thing. Once in a while, chocolate cake provides the positive strokes that are also necessary for living. But there is a big difference between a piece of chocolate cake once in a while, and a piece every night, or every week. To say nothing of what else you could eat, or spend your time with.

And that is the point: are you spending your time doing the right things? Or, are you spending your times making leaves, and no figs. You see, while some people can “multi-task” (I can’t, so I really have no idea how others do that), there really are priorities. And maybe some resources (time, energy) are better spent on things other than chocolate cake.

I don’t know anybody who is not doing all they can. Finding someone who is not busy is about as likely as finding an honest person in Washington (D.C. or Olympia – take your pick). Busy, busy, busy. Always rushing around. Spending their lives doing and not being. Lots of leaves, no figs.

We all know – intellectually, we all know – that our total days breathing and walking around are numbered. We all know that we may have already seen our last sunrise (or, sunset). We all hope that we will live forever in perfect health, even when we’ve never, ever, met anyone who has (why do we think we’ll be the first?).

Not a case of “play today, repent tomorrow,” for nearly no one thinks they have any reason to repent of anything. What’s wrong with leaves? Everybody’s doing it. Some are even making more leaves – a lot more – than others. I never liked figs anyway.

The problem is, figs count, leaves don’t. I hope I’m making figs – I hope, but I don’t know. I hope, but I don’t know for certain. All I can do is try, and pray. Pray that GOD will show me how to do better.

Could Jesus have cut the tree some slack? Yeah, could’ve. Didn’t. Pretty brutal. But, for thousands of years, GOD tried working with the Hebrews, and still to this day, hasn’t been able to soften their hearts. Am I doing enough? Dunno. I am aware, very aware, that there is always room for growth, room to improve, another branch to grow figs on.

Figs, figs, figs – more figs. Less chocolate cake. And that is the downfall of chocolate cake: figs. While eating one, I am not eating the other. While doing things that are moving me away from GOD, I am not doing things that are moving me closer. Two masters – something in the Bible about that. On the one hand, I have things of this world that do not move me closer to GOD; on the other hand, I am very much aware of things that do move me closer. And they are mutually exclusive.

I’m afraid, very much afraid, that the recent political conventions are a harbinger of things to come. I’m afraid, very much afraid, that the storm is coming, and it will be brutal. And there is no reason to think that it won’t be the perfect storm than sinks this grand experiment called America.

The recent, targeted, murder of a Roman Catholic priest in France (Fr Jacques Hamel, RIP) has done two things. First, it has escalated the conflict between Islam and the rest of the world. Second, the silence of the political parties and the news media on this shows that we can expect further attacks (no repercussions, no reason to stop killing religious) and further silence.

Put another way, we now have proof that nothing is sacred, not to ISIS, not to our politicians.

The fig tree didn’t have a chance – it had already used up all of its chances. It was time for the fire. I need to eat less chocolate cake. Politics in America would be an embarrassment if they weren’t so disgusting (really, Clinton and Trump – this is the best we can do???).

I think I still have a chance to cut down on my chocolate cake to make room for more figs. I’m not feeling so optimistic about the American dream. Perhaps, like the fig tree, it is time for the fire?

The Last Word

I have come up with yet another addition to the list of things I want to teach the Twins (who will be 13 months old in a few days – so, lots of time for me to learn this first): it is not necessary to always have the last word. It may not ever be necessary.

I don’t know why we want to be the one who lobs the last bon mot in a conversation. A feeling of superiority? Or, the opposite?

I guess Winston Churchill was pretty good with the one-liners. But, it is my understanding that he had the last word because no one could better him, not because he was already out the door. Apparently, his rhetorical skills were quite a bit better than most around him. Dunno why he is known for that sort of thing; maybe he just took delight in putting people down? Maybe he was just so brilliant that his insight just couldn’t be matched? I’ve enjoyed reading his work and reading about him; but, separated by time and distance, I was never the object of his jabs (anything can be entertaining from afar).

But, most people I know are very much like me: not brilliant, just average. Peers. And most conversations I engage in don’t impact history. So, why must someone else feel the need to have the last word?

Perhaps I am intimidating, and the only way they feel they can balance the books is to throw something hurtful over their shoulder? While I think I am working very hard at not being arrogant, it is the height of arrogance to think I’m humble – I get that.

But, why can’t the last word as you send your husband off to a job you know he hates, and the only reason he does it is to support his family, be something like “I love you,” or “Stay safe,” or “I miss you already”? Something to make me smile as I join the other road warriors on the interstate highway. Instead, I get to spend the next hour, while dodging those whose minds are clearly elsewhere (I don’t know what the guy who rear-ended me last night was thinking), telling myself that what I last heard her say is really not that important.

I know of more than one example where the last word was only not helpful, it was hateful. In these cases, the recipient of the venom died, and the other person went on to live for years. What a hell of a thing to live with, huh? I’m not so morbid as to fire back (as the last word after the last word) something like, “And, I’ll take that to my grave.” Talk about a hateful thing to say.

Jesus Christ said something about going before GOD with the burden of being cross-threaded with someone else (“if you are offering your gift at the altar and remember that your brother or sister has something against you”; see Matthew 5:23). Since we don’t know when our last breath will be, shouldn’t we be even more careful about what we say? Or would we rather live with knowing our last word to someone left a bad taste in their mouth?  For all eternity.

So, how do I prevent this in myself; and hopefully teach this to my kids?

First, I remember two things I heard while growing up. One, from my mother, “If you don’t have something good to say, don’t say anything.” The other, from my dad, “If it doesn’t add value, don’t say it.” Fingers from the same glove, I think; but not the same fingers. I might add my own: “Is it helpful?” Is something I say, or do, going to help one other, or many others, or even me, make progress, move closer to GOD? If not, then don’t say it / don’t do it.

Of course, above all, don’t gossip; that goes without saying.

I’m thinking of the opening to “Love, Actually.” People at airports, coming or going. Not being hurtful.

Maybe it would require extra effort to say something nice as a good-bye, even if your heart’s not in it. But it will get easier (thanks to the power of habit). And maybe sincere, eventually. In any event, it would just be better to depart on a positive note. Just better. Not a complex theory. Easy, peasy.

Well, that was easy

Frankly, I have always found being able to vote a very exciting proposition. I enjoyed studying the issues and the candidates, even to the point of actually reading the sometimes voluminous voter information “pamphlets” of recent years. Before absentee ballots, I took a cheat-sheet into the voting booth; now, I sit down at the kitchen table and very carefully color-in the little ellipses.

So, tho not quite “Christmas morning,” I opened up my ballot for the Washington State Primary this week and ….

You know what I saw. In alphabetical order were the two political parties and the candidates for each. Since I found none of the printed names the least bit appealing (if not down-right repulsive), I resolved to rip off the little strip of paper (which is there why?), stuff the ballot into the first envelope, and then the second envelope, and sign my name and, whoa!

Here in this revolting politically-liberal state (although it is still possible for a baker to decide whom he wants to serve), the ancient two-party primary is alive and well: I had to declare allegiance to one, or the other, major political party. I was required to put a mark into a box stating I wanted anyone to think I was either a Democrat or a Republican. When in fact, I can’t possibly distance myself far enough away from either. It is neither a moral or ethical dilemma for me, it is a matter of taste.

Easy, peasy, into the recycling bin it went.

In a manner of speaking, I have voted; tho I’m not sure “abstention” or “abdication” might be more appropriate. And, I don’t know if the lack of documentation of my lack of participation in the primary will affect my ability to participate in November. Maybe I won’t be getting a ballot? I don’t know: I don’t think I’ve ever missed voting in a primary before.

If I can’t vote in November, at least I’ll be able to put a sticker on my car that says, “Don’t blame me, you voted for ….”

Oops, are pronouns allowed anymore? Maybe I should adopt the gender-confused “s/h/it”?

A reasonable hope?

Being human, I would like to have a reasonable hope that I will not burn in hell for all eternity: it is my skin, after all. As is heard almost everywhere you turn these days, “it’s all about me.” So yeah, I’d rather put all my eggs in the Urs von Balthasar basket. I’d like to go confidently to the Pearly Gates, stand in front of Saint Peter and say, “But, Bishop Barron says….” It’d make my current life a lot – a hell of a lot – easier; the thought that, no matter what I do in this life, I will be saved in the next.

 

But, while both men are vastly more intelligent than I am, I can’t accept that theory.

 

First, and foremost, if we are all saved, then what was the point of Jesus Christ? If Hell is empty, then Adam and Eve are also now in Heaven. And Adolf and Uncle Joe and what’s-his-name and his little red book. There is evidently, no need for a messiah. And the Bible is just a collection of fiction.

 

I don’t buy that, either.

 

Then, if GOD really is omnipotent, then no sin is beyond Him, is it? Well yeah, GOD really is omnipotent; but maybe HE will pull everybody, including Lucifer and his ilk out of the eternal damnation on the Last Day? So, Hell does have somebody in it NOW; but eventually it will be empty? We just got back to my first paragraph.

 

Second, while I can easily find bits and pieces thru-out the Bible that do convince me that Hell is real, and people do go there, I’ll be damned (like that?) if I can find anything in the Bible that even hints that Hell isn’t real. Very true that I am no scholar; but I do read the Bible and I do read various commentaries on it.

Some of the stuff in the Bible is undoubtedly symbolic, or metaphorical, or allegorical; but some of it seems intuitively obvious to the most casual observer. Jesus does tell some great stories; but it’s hard to equate “It would have been better had he [Judas] not been born,” with “See ya later.” In other words, why would I ever believe just two dudes after nearly 2,000 years and countless other thinkers have validated the Bible? Put another way: who’s this von Balthasar to contradict the Bible? No friend of mine.

 

Finally (for the moment), I think it would be nice to be well thought of, this side of the grave; regardless of what my eternal future looks like. If it turns out that I’ll be listening to the heavenly choir for all eternity, then it is win-win. If there is no life after this one, then I at least I played this game the best way I could; which leaves me 1-0. Yeah, pretty thin. But the alternative, putting all my eggs in the von Balthasar/Barron basket, is just plain stupid.