Point the Way

The gospels tell us about the birth of Jesus, and St. Luke tells us that 40 days after his birth, Mary and Joseph presented him at the temple, as required by law. The story then goes dark until he was about 12 years old, at which time Luke explains that during a festival attended by Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, he wandered away from his parents and was later found by a terrified Mary as he was preaching to some elders. Did you not know this is where you would find me? he asks his mother. I’m pretty sure her reply was something along the lines of if we knew where to find you, that is the first place we would have looked and I wouldn’t have been freaking out for the last three hours young man!

The story again goes dark until Jesus is 30-something, and the real story begins.

I, of course, being the inquisitive sort, would simply love to know what happened during the periods of time about which the gospels are silent. What kind of life did Jesus have with his parents? Did he hang out with neighborhood kids and play whatever passed for baseball in Israel circa 0013? Did he keep his room tidy? Did he like his mother’s cooking? What was his favorite food?

Yesterday, the Catholic Church celebrated the Feast of St. John the Baptist. As you will recall, John was the cousin of Jesus, being the offspring of Mary’s Aunt Elizabeth. Though, as I noted above, the gospels are silent, I would assume that Jesus and John were BFFs. My son Court was my only child, and as such, he was BFFs with his cousin Benjamin Joseph. More than friends, actually; more like brothers, for all intents and purposes. When our entire extended family got together, those two boys were off on their own. It was almost like they had a secret language. From the time they were little, they were each other’s confidants. To this day, I’m certain BJ knows things about Court that I will never (and probably don’t want to) know……

In my imagination, that’s how I envision the relationship between Jesus and his cousin John. Both were only children, or at least arguably so. Jesus had what can only be described as a heavy burden that he carried. Even if he didn’t understand fully what his future looked like, he had to feel different from his friends. There’s no way you can convince me that Jesus and John didn’t sit under an olive tree where Jesus told John that he was afraid of what would happen when he was a grown up. John likely said, I’ll be there for you Cuz!

Cousin John became John the Baptist, and he definitely was there for Jesus. He prepared the Way of the Lord. I am not the Savior, John said over and over again. I am not even worthy enough to fasten his sandals. My cousin Jesus is the Savior. Thus is the life of a prophet.

When we think of prophets, we think of people who can predict the future. But in biblical terms, prophets didn’t actually predict the future. Neither Isaiah nor Jeremiah nor Elijah nor John the Baptist forecasted the weather or suggested in what commodities the Jewish people should invest.  Their jobs were to point to God. Plain and simple. God loves you. God will send you a savior. Trust in God and trust in his son.

So guess what I think this means (having gone out last night and gotten my degree in theology)? I think this means that we are all prophets. Or at least we have the ability to be prophets if we choose, and are courageous enough.

Isaiah said The Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name. He made of me a sharp-edged sword and concealed me in the shadow of his arm. He made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me. You are my servant, he said to me, through whom I show my glory.(Isaiah, 49: 1-3)

Just like Isaiah, God knew each of us even in our mothers’ wombs. He knew our names. He gave us strength. He simply asks that we tell others – through words and actions – about his glory.

And that we take care of one another — like BJ and Court and like Jesus and John.

Give it Up

Kris_Grands004_optEvery one of us has said something along the lines of “He (or she) is a saint on earth.” I know a number of this kind of person, many of whom read this blog (I put that in so that each one of you can imagine I’m talking about you).

But when I think of a so-called saint on earth, I can’t help but think of my grandmother. I truly never heard her say a bad word about anyone. She was kind and generous and loved everyone. And everyone loved her back. One example of her holiness is that when she went to bed each night, she would lay on the bed with her head at the foot rather than the head of the bed. Why? She said it was so that she wouldn’t fall asleep before she finished her prayers. Once she finished, she would turn around and sleep peacefully.

In Sunday’s gospel from St. Luke, the crowds asked St. John the Baptist what they needed to do to get to heaven. St. John’s answer was simple. “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none.  And whoever has food should do likewise.”

That’s really not too complicated, is it? You don’t have to have a halo or angelic wings to do what God wants you to do. It isn’t necessary to part the Red Sea. You just have to live your everyday life, but live it stupendously – be the best you can be. Be generous. Be faithful to God’s Word. Be kind to others.

My dad always told us kids this story. During the hard times when he was growing up, there were lots of people really struggling in Columbus, Nebraska. Grammie and Grandpa’s bakery was downtown, only a couple of blocks from the railroad tracks. To this day, numerous trains pass through Columbus each day. But during the Depression of the 1930s, many men who had lost their jobs, their families, their livelihood, took to riding the rails. We called them bums. Today we would call them homeless, but nobody used that word in those days. These lost souls would make their way to the bakery, where they apparently knew (or quickly learned) that they could get some bread or rolls from my grandmother at no cost. Dad used to say that as quickly as Grandpa was taking bread out of the oven in the back end of the bakery, Grammie was giving it away to poor, jobless men in the front end.

She exemplified St. John the Baptist’s command to help the poor. She lived the word of God. She was a saint on earth, and is now a saint in heaven. I hope I can see her again someday.

The Importance of Being Important

O when the saints go marching in
When the saints go marching in
O Lord I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in. – Author unknown, but song made famous by Louis Armstrong

There comes a point in everyone’s life – at least everyone over the age of 55 or 60 – when you start asking yourself, how did I get to be this age and just what have I accomplished in my life. For me, it hit quite early – somewhere in the neighborhood of 30. There were probably a lot of reasons for this, not the least of which was that I was going through profound marriage difficulties that ultimately resulted in divorce. Nothing makes you feel like a great success more than a divorce. I’m being sarcastic.

For others, it may be when you turn 40, or maybe 50. Here I am, you might say, 50 years old and I’m still not a millionaire. Or I still haven’t gotten my MBA. Or there is no Corvette in my garage. Or I don’t have a garage.

When you think about it, however, it’s all about how you measure success.

350px-All-Saints

The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs, a painting by Fra Angelico, 15th century.

Yesterday was November 1, and Catholics (and probably some other religions) celebrated All Saints Day. For Catholics, it’s a holy day of obligation, meaning we are supposed to attend Mass, no matter on what day of the week it falls. In a most unsaintly way, I am always glad when it falls on a Sunday, thereby killing two birds with one stone. Shame on me.  It’s probably likely there will never be the word “saint” before my name.

I don’t know if it was because it was All Saints Day or if it was in the regular church reading cycle, but yesterday’s gospel was from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as told by St. Matthew.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus went on to say, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.

Jesus’ testimony to the crowd, and therefore to us, isn’t anything new. A few weeks ago he told his disciples that in order to get to heaven, we have to have the faith of children. This time he reminds us that people with simple faith and simple needs will be first in line to greet St. Peter.

Gospel readings such as this one remind me how complicated Christian people sometimes make our faith. We get caught up in political righteousness when it seems to me really all God expects of us is to have a simple and pure faith in him and kindness to others. Love God and love one another. I found our priest’s homily meaningful. He said that while we all measure success by how much money we have or how successful we are in our professional lives, or even how successful our children are, in reality the Beatitudes are Jesus’ blueprint for success. Boom.

It’s not complicated. And it wasn’t complicated for most of the saints. They modeled their lives after Jesus, and now we should model our lives after them.

I’ll try, as long as I don’t have to live off locusts and honey like St. John the Baptist.

ReinieBy the way, When the Saints Come Marching In was played at my father’s funeral, partially because he was a fan of Louis Armstrong, but mostly because he was one of those saints that marched right in!