It’s only Thursday

Something that I have noticed about myself is that, in recent years, I have made a deliberate attempt at making Lent meaningful.  Long ago, I stopped giving up chocolate for Lent (partly because it seemed so superficial, and partly because I really don’t eat much chocolate anyway – kind of like giving up smoking for someone who has never smoked).  Similarly, fast and abstinence have lost their meaning simply because food is not something I spend much time thinking about: I am very much of the “I eat to live” camp, and not at all of the “I live to eat” stripe.  Not eating meat on Friday?  So what?  I usually don’t anyway.

What I have felt is that trying to make Lent meaningful has indeed become a more fruitful period of preparation.  I spend more time in prayer.  I read more (I just this morning finished Fr Richard John Neuhaus’ “Death on a Friday Afternoon” – a good book anytime of the year, but especially appropriate during this time of year).

I woke up this morning thinking it was already Good Friday; then “it’s ‘only’ Thursday.”  Granted, a very special Thursday: the first day of the Triduum.  But, I very much want to spend even more time than I ever have focusing on Good Friday.  Exactly why is rather vague to me, except that it seems appropriate to do more than I ever have.

As one of those that carries a Rosary in my pocket, it is very easy for me to pray a Rosary.  Yes, there are specific Mysteries for designated days of the week; but I frequently find myself wanting to pray the Sorrowful Mysteries.  In a very strange way, I might say that the Sorrowful Mysteries are my “favorite”; so, I’ve spent a lot of time meditating on those.  And the first Sorrowful Mystery has always taken the bulk of my time.

Why did Jesus “weep” in the Garden?

At first, I thought it was the human Jesus that would have known the horrors of crucifixion – the Romans were famous for making examples of a few “miscreants” (their definition, of course), and it seems impossible to me that Jesus went to Jerusalem for Passover some 30 times and never saw someone hanging from a “tree” in pain that can only be described as indescribable.  It must be the thought of going thru that kind of pain that caused His tears.

Then it was the thought of all those souls that somehow didn’t get it.  I am incredulous that anyone could have seen, talked to, eaten with, even been with Jesus for three years and still didn’t get it.  To say nothing of all those souls that weren’t even close to Jesus geographically (say, people in Rome).  As Neil Diamond might say “for being done too soon” (which I have mentioned in these pages before).  It must have been the frustration that caused His tears.

This past week, my thoughts shifted to the possibility that His tears were caused by His resistance to temptation.  To me, there is ample reason to spend time with this possibility.  While in the Garden, His three closest friends fell asleep – He had to wake them three times.  They succumbed to the temptation of thinking sleep was more important than being with their friend.  Maybe the dinner they had and all the excitement that must have been part of the Passover festivities was just too much for them?  Maybe they didn’t resist to the point of shedding blood?

Then, there is Jesus floating the idea in His prayers that maybe the whole Passion thing might not happen at all – maybe that cup would pass Him by.  What do you think about that, Abba?  Maybe the temptation to cut and run caused His tears?  I’m thinking the whole temptation thing is fairly likely.

And then, in the closing pages of Fr Neuhaus’ work, I learned of how utterly alone Jesus was.

Why am I Roman Catholic?  Well, first and foremost, I do believe I am called by GOD to be a member of the body of His One, True Church.  And second, more on the level of the worm that I am, I just believe that the interpretation of the Bible that the Roman Catholic Church offers is the best – the closest, the most true (to say nothing of the longest analysis – something approaching 500 years longer than any other group –  and the largest corpus of writings).

And in Fr Neuhaus’s book, he points out that GOD spoke (so that others heard) to Jesus twice: at His Baptism and at His Transfiguration.  However, at no time during His Passion, did GOD speak to Jesus.  Yeah!  That’s right.  GOD is silent when Jesus needed Him the most.

Jesus had His own “dark night of the soul” at the very end; others lived to tell about it (e.g., St John of the Cross’ “Ascent of Mt Carmel,” and “Dark Night of the Soul”).  In any event, was Jesus crying because He felt utterly, totally and absolutely alone?

Perhaps the answer is: “almost.”  As in 99%.  Because there was still something – however small – that moved Him to pray.  If He was 100% convinced He was alone, prayer would have been pointless.

I’m still working on “What Good Friday means to me.”  I’m no longer hung up on the very idea of calling the day We Crucified Our Lord, “good.”  Looking at the clock, I have something less than 23 hours to spend on Good Friday, then it’s on to Saturday.  I suppose that could be “Holy Saturday,” but sitting here, I am thinking it is more like “Empty Saturday.”

Again to borrow from Fr Neuhaus, I don’t want to rush thru Good Friday.  I want to spend time with the Guy-I-never-met, who died for me.  I’m old fashioned enough to believe I owe Him that much.

 

 

Me again

I realize two posts in as many days is rather more of a fire hose than a straw; but rest assured that I won’t be able to maintain this blistering pace.

I had several thoughts for my next post (i.e., this one); but I was not able to jot them down when they came to me, and are likely now gone forever.  That said, a post I just read got me going in another direction: Simcha Fisher’s “Six Sermons I could do without” (I read this in “The Catholic Weekly,” thanks to a link from NewAdvent.com; but she also blogs at simchafisher.com).  Like her, I have spent a few years sitting in the pew, enthralled by some homilies, barely enduring others.  And while her opening paragraph is a story about a priest who can’t avoid complaints, and her post is critical, it is not all negative.

First, I want to go on record as saying in my 62 years, I have never gone w/o access to a priest.  Not that I always took advantage of the opportunity to attend Mass (sadly); but in my world travels, and time in the military, when I went looking for a priest, there always was one.  Until moving a year ago, I was a member of a small group (less than a dozen adults) that met on Friday evenings to pray the Stations of the Cross for Priests.  It was only then that I came to fully appreciate what priests have meant in my life.  I shudder to think what kind of person I would be like today if (a) my mother didn’t make me go to Mass as a kid, and (b) there weren’t priests available.

So, I would be among the last to criticize the guy in the pulpit.

That said, I would like to use Simcha’s post as a springboard (read her post if you want her words).  The bullet points are hers, the comments are mine.

  1. The Catechetical Dump

A recent online poll by Church Militant dot com asked what was the biggest problem facing the Church today.  Of all of the issues that came to mind, I voted for catechesis – altho that one certainly doesn’t get front page in the secular (“news”) media.  Following this train of thought, a priest is confronted by a congregation that spends in the neighborhood of one hour a week actually thinking about religion.  Maybe.  Furthermore, the congregation is an amalgam (hodgepodge, more like it) of wildly differing educations, etc. (that list is really too long to enumerate) – how do you address that mess?

As I alluded to earlier, I am a “cradle” Catholic.  I never attended any religious school, attending “CCD” classes once-a-week while growing up (Baltimore Catechism).  And I think those classes ended in elementary school.  I was very active in the Catholic youth group “CYO” in high school, and then I fell off the deep end, or journeyed out into the wilderness, or something.  W/o getting bogged down in the story of my return to the Church (here, anyway), I would just like to say that, in the past five years, I have learned – entirely on my own (unfortunately) – more about the Church than I ever learned in the previous half-century (am I that old, really?).

But, how about my fellow pew-sitters?  Judging from what I see at Mass, I’d have to say I am among those who don’t NEED the “entire Faith” in 10 minutes – I spend about an hour a day on my own (lots of prayer, lots of reading, and hopefully lots more writing).  I wish I had the time to spend hours every day.  But, how does the priest say something to interest me, when sitting next to me is someone who is texting?

  1. Yelling at the Choir

I go to Mass for an almost heretical reason: not to socialize, but to be closer to GOD.  It astounds me that supposed “adults” can walk into the Sanctuary and talk about who the Seahawks are playing as if everyone in the place wants to hear their opinion.  Or, come in late and leave early.  I show up for Mass, almost always in plenty of time to pray a Rosary (which takes me at least half an hour).  To get my head in the game, as it were.  But, as my mother has often said, at least they come.  Yeah, well there is that (as I mutter under my breath, “Why did they come?”).

Lent is a good time for me to go to Mass because I feel that Mass is penance.  Yes, I am well aware of Church teaching as to why I should go to Mass; but it takes great effort on my part to put up with the “Turn to your neighbor and say ‘hi’”; and that peace thing.  I see absolutely no point in holding hands during the Our Father.  Don’t get me started on the faux orans (see Dr Edward Peters).  And receiving the Eucharist in the hands?  Oi vey.

I wear a St Benedict’s Crucifix on a chain around my neck.  I always wear it – outside my clothing, not hidden away.  I was once mistaken for a religious (of some sort).  I’m sure most people wonder if I hide it away the moment I walk out of the church after Mass; I don’t.  It’s fully visible at work, in stores, etc.  I am proclaiming, “I am Catholic – this is who I am.”  I am also reminding myself that I am Catholic (it – the Crucifix – is heavy; it’s a wonder I haven’t knocked out a tooth).

But, to look at the resident sister at the parish of which I am a member, you would never know she was a religious.  Never in a thousand years.  For shame.  (She has her hair “done,” she always wears clothes that any other (older) woman would, she never has any sort of religious token visible, she never covers her head during Mass.)

  1. Sit, Stand, Kneel, Bow and Beyond

I don’t go to Mass to be entertained.  Father, please don’t even try.  I don’t care if Gonzaga got to the Final Four – and I certainly don’t want to launch into my Mass experience that way.  But, my gripe with Father Feel Good is his insistence on editing the Nicene Creed.

I first ran into this in Rome at Santa Susanna, which is administered by the Paulists.  Both priests assigned there never vocalized “men” while leading the congregation in the Creed.  Now, I have to put up with the same s**t from the priest that helps out (technically, he is not assigned to the parish I attend).  I understand the desire to be inclusive – I do.  But, to my knowledge no “mere” diocesan priest has been given dispensation to choose what words to say during Mass.  If you want to sit down over coffee and donuts and talk about it, fine, great.

That said, it is ironic that the book of Sunday Mass readings and hymns now has an insert inside the front cover with the Nicene Creed (I guess because it is too difficult to find the Creed in the Order of the Mass on page 9).

When I genuflect (facing the Tabernacle that is hidden away in a small chapel off the Sanctuary – really?), I touch my knee to the floor.  I’ve stopped looking for anyone else who goes to such extremes.  I haven’t figured out if it’s better to fake a genuflection or a bow.  I’ll get back to you on that.

  1. Miracle debunkers

I am blessed that I have seldom been subjected to wannabe Biblical scholars or would be theologians.  No doubt any priest who delivers a homily has more formal education in these areas than I do.  But, I do know enough to know when someone is trying to dumb-down the Bible.

  1. Political rallies

From my reading, I know that this past year (including the recently concluded race for the White House) has been full to overflowing with politics disguised as Church teaching.  If “politics is local,” then Faith is the exact opposite.

Altho I can state the exact date that I decided to come back to the Church, it was no Damascus Road.  It was 2005 and my awareness of the priest sex scandal was growing.  The more I learned (and have learned since; the movie “Spotlight” ought to be required viewing for all Catholics), the less sure I was that I wanted to return.  I was overseas at the time, but when I returned to the States, I found Tabernacles hidden away in what amounted to a closet, the priest facing the congregation instead of the Tabernacle and Crucifix, and just last year, a Crucifix that frankly was abhorrent (to say it was Andy Warhol’s idea of a Crucifix does him no credit).  What happened to my Church while I was gone (in a distant country / desert)?

Fortunately, Joseph Ratzinger was the Successor to Peter at the time, and his scholarship only encouraged me.  I have been most formed by Pope Benedict XVI and Pope St John Paul II (my only son is named after him).

Now, I am as confused by Pope Francis as I was strengthened by his two predecessors.  I am quite sure Pope Francis is part of GOD’s plan; but it only serves to remind me that I have no idea at all what His Plan is.

Politics have always been part of the Church.  Only now it is blatantly obviously in opposition to the teachings of the Fathers and Doctors.

  1. Baby shaming

Actually, the pastor at the parish of which I am a member has been very encouraging of bringing my kids to Mass.  At one Mass, my 15 month old daughter got away from me, and I didn’t catch up with her until she had passed the first row pews.  Father incorporated her eagerness to “come to Jesus” into his homily (pretty slick, huh?).  So, why was she able to make a break for it?  Well, I thought I was watching her twin brother, and my wife thought ….

However, we have received suggestions from others in the pews that maybe the little ones were too distracting (something like that).

Too be fair, while the Twins do need to get into the routine of going to Mass, I need to do a better job of entertaining them during Mass (or corralling them).  It is not fair to those who really do want to have a worshipful experience.  On the other hand, several older congregants have been absolutely delighted in meeting “young persons.”

Finally, let me echo Simcha’s last line: “Thank you for your service to us and to GOD.”

 

Dr Edward Peters, “Another Look at the Orans Issue,” www.canonlaw.info; also The Catholic Exchange, June 2005

It’s been too long

Maybe not for you, my dear reader; but for me.  This blog started because I felt I needed to stop hiding in my diary.  That somehow, “going public” would force me to raise the bar a notch.  Well between the ridiculously small numbers of people who have actually read any posting in this blog, and the long stretches between my postings, my arm is apparently not being twisted very hard.

And that may be the most telling: I very much want to grow, but I’m a one-man show, and it’s tough.  The following is neither a rant, nor a rave; it is most definitely a ramble.

I happened upon Mark Shea’s post “A Chestertonian reflection on blasphemy and the Annunciation” on the Patheos website.  My first thought was simply: “Oh boy, some more Chesterton!”  That was soon overtaken by thoughts of a co-worker that I have known for 25+ years.  The fickle finger of fate being what it is, he and I sit next to each other every minute for the entirety of our full-time jobs (think 40-hour work week, though we work a very non-standard schedule).  During my world travels as a field representative, my co-worker and his wife have visited me on assignment – out of the way places, and places no one else did.  He has also generously celebrated the birth of my Twins almost two years ago.  He has a photographic memory (think “walking internet”).

He is highly educated, has Jewish roots and has no use for what he can’t touch.  He is also the most profane man I have ever met (even my Marine DIs had a larger vocabulary).  For someone who can quote the Torah, every other sentence (very nearly literally so) contains the standard blasphemy you might hear from a New York cabbie.  For someone with Jewish roots, he can also throw in “Jesus Christ” with disgusting frequency.

He knows I am a practicing Catholic; I wear a Benedict’s Crucifix from a chain around my neck – outside my clothing for all to see (yes, at work, in public, etc.).  I’m the only one I know who “announces” his religious affiliation so blatantly (I suppose my parish priest might wear a black Cossack on occasion – though I’ve never seen him in one).  Several of my co-workers have commented on my crucifix in one way or another.  It is inconceivable that the specific co-worker I am speaking of has no clue how I view his comments.

Have I said anything to this co-worker, like, “bump the needle, already.”  Actually, yes I have.  But, I am conflicted.

On the one hand, I am hurt by his word choice – he clearly doesn’t care what he says.  On one plane, someone so well educated ought to have a much larger working vocabulary (yes, I am a snob).  On a much higher plane, if he is going to abuse any word, he should not be using the words he is using.  He is certainly not being original, just tedious.  I just had a thought that, if he goes to Purgatory and spends just one day for each of his epithets, he’s going to be there far longer than me.

+++

This has been a tough Lent.  I wanted to give up alcohol; but my sciatica has triumphed.  The Second Sorrowful Mystery has to do with “mortification of the flesh.”  At least I have learned that much, thanks to pain that is always there, and is sometimes paralyzing.  But, never once have I looked anywhere but toward GOD.  I have heard, for years, the exasperation in “If there is a GOD, why does He allow bad things to happen.”  There was a time when I leaned in that direction; there was a time when I wondered the same thing.  I still understand why people ask that; but I don’t.  In a paradoxical way, it is a good thing that “bad” things do happen.  I recently heard, “If the world was perfect, it wouldn’t be” (sadly I cannot remember where or when I heard that).  The point is, without the “bad” stuff, there would be no opportunity to grow.

I cannot draw any other conclusion that, because I believe in GOD, I believe in the possibility of eternal life with Him, and this life is preparation for the next life (yes, pretty much just one thought).  As a life of preparation, this journey has afforded me (and everyone I know) opportunities to grow, to become more human – more of a human being and less of an animal.  Since I believe GOD can erase any ‘bad’ thing, people that suffer now may find themselves sitting at the “table of GOD”; whereas people who’ve not had it so bad now may find themselves gazing on Heaven from afar.  Where will I end up?  Dunno, but what am I doing now?

And that is part of the reason behind this blog: what am I doing now?  I am absolutely convinced that I must remain a wage-slave to take care of my immediate family.  I would rather spend the time I am a wage-slave in reading, writing and praying (for me, reading and writing is prayer).  I’d rather be running around the house with my kids right now.  And while I can write later, I know I must strike while the iron is hot, and that means sitting with this laptop.

So, I hope I can write (post) more often.  I hope it helps me on my journey.  If, dear reader, my scratchings help you, that would be even better.

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.

+++

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.

+++

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.

+++

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?