Thursday Thoughts

At Long Last
I finally got my rear end in gear yesterday and I started gathering together the things I’m going to be taking back to Denver. Mostly I went through my office area where I keep all of my files, crocheted goods, and other miscellaneous items. When I pack in my mind it always feels like it is going to be more things; when I pack in real life, I’m always surprised at how little we transport…..

I think Bill and I have both done a good job of figuring out what things we need to have here AND in Denver so that we aren’t hauling big items back and forth. This weekend I will begin packing our clothes. That is the one thing that we do take back with us since it will be summer soon. Yes Colorado friends and family: I promise, it really will be summer soon.

Last Bites
I mentioned that there are restaurants here in AZ that we particularly enjoy, so this week we are trying to have our so-called “last suppers” at these restaurants. Sometimes it’s not supper, but lunch. Day before yesterday, we had lunch at Fuddruckers, where I enjoyed the heck out of my hamburger. Yesterday, I had lunch with my sister Bec at our favorite pho restaurant near her house while Bill ate lunch at one of his favorite pizza restaurants near our house. Today we are having lunch with friends at a restaurant called Red White and Brew, where my niece Maggie serves food. The good news is we go home to good restaurants and food in Denver.

An Afternoon with Paul
Tuesday, Bill was busy doing legal work, and I was still looking at ways to avoid packing. I decided to go to the movies since there was a movie I have wanted to see in which Bill had little interest. Paul, Apostle of Christ, was making its final appearances at our nearby theater, and there was an afternoon showing. I thought I would be alone in the theater, but surprisingly, there were quite a few folks. People my age, of course. When I got my ticket, the young girl who took my money volunteered, “You’re going to like this movie. The story stays true to the Bible.” She also announced that St. Luke was being played by James Caviezel, who played Jesus in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. “He must like playing those kinds of roles,” she said, as the people behind me were tapping their feet, wishing that I would wrap up my ticket buying. I enjoyed the movie a great deal, despite the fact that the woman sitting next to me made me feel a bit like I was at a Baptist church service. Whenever St. Paul would say something meaningful, she would respond with an amen, or uh huh! Out loud. I was left with two thoughts: 1) The early followers of Jesus – and I’m not talking about the 12 apostles, but those in the first couple of hundred years – were fervent believers in Christ and such brave souls. They encountered so much persecution and martyrdom. People who now doubt their faith in Jesus today might consider these original followers’ faith and sacrifice as a sign of the truth of their beliefs. Just a thought. 2) The Acts of the Apostles has to be one of the most exciting and interesting books of all time. Catholics hear excerpts from Acts during the weeks following Easter, but I am going to re-read the entire Acts. St. Paul can get on my last nerve, but man, he was a strong believer.

Continuous Loop
I mentioned the other day that Luke Bryan’s Most People Are Good tends to run through my mind during the night in that way that songs do. Last night, Luke Bryan was nowhere to be seen. Instead, I sang When Someone Stops Loving You, by Little Big Town, throughout the night. Oy vey. Country singers: Just let me get some sleep!

Ciao.

Surprise. I’m Home. What’s For Dinner?

Nobody can tell a story like the Gospel writer Luke.

Well, to tell the truth, it really was Jesus who was the good story teller. St. Luke only repeated the story like someone stealing their buddy’s good joke. To be fair to Luke, however, he does attribute the story to Jesus, so really it’s all good.

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My much-loved nephew BJ

I’m talking about the story of the prodigal son – the gospel this past weekend. I can’t hear that story without thinking about Jen’s son BJ. Don’t get me wrong. BJ was NOT a prodigal son; but he hates – or at least used to hate – that story. He thought the older son got screwed and it pissed him off royally.

I didn’t like that story very much myself for a long time, up until I had my own son. And then I learned that no matter what had happened, if he and I had fallen apart, I would welcome him home with open arms if he came back to me. Maybe the fact that I only had one child for much of my life made that simpler. But I don’t think so.

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My much-loved granddaughter Adelaide

It’s like the question kids often ask their parents and grandparents – which one of us do you love the most. (We never asked that question in our family because we all knew it was Dave!) But seriously, the answer to that question is usually that the parents and grandparents love all of their children and grandchildren. But different children have different needs at different times. Some children are more loving; others tend to be more standoffish. Sometimes one of our kids or grandkids is going through a particularly tough time and needs our attention a bit more. Like the time that Addie – who will be 13 in a couple of weeks, and how on earth did THAT happen – stopped by our house unexpectedly. She was a bit quiet and I asked if something was wrong. Yes, she admitted. Her mother was being TOTALLY UNFAIR. Now that’s an unusual thing for an adolescent girl to think about her mother, isn’t it? She and I had a good long talk and I hope that I sent her off feeling a bit better.

The point of the parable of the prodigal son, of course, is that God loves us all, even when we screw up. No matter how far away from him our life goes, when we’re ready to come back to God, he will accept us with open arms and no questions asked.

And what about those of us who never stop believing in God’s love? Are we getting screwed like BJ believed was happening to the older brother in the parable? I guess I don’t think so. The younger brother blew it – thought he could live without his father.  I know there have been many times in my life where, while I never stopped believing in God, I did go adrift. For that matter, it still happens. I begin to think I can go it alone. I forget that without God’s help, I’m nothing. But I know that God forgives me, not just once, but over and over and over again.

Just like the father forgave the son who made such a big mistake, while never loving his older son any less.

It’s what we parents and grandparents do too.

Full of Grace

Nine or 10 years ago, Bill and I went to a movie and dinner with one of my friends who was newly divorced at the time, and very broken. The movie we saw was The Nativity Story, the fairly biblically accurately-told story of the birth of Jesus, and the events before and after. My friend is a cradle Catholic who had been a bit tepid about her faith for a while, but following her terribly ugly divorce, she was nothing short of put-a-fork-in-it-it’s-done when it came to religion. She was asking that age-old question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

We sat down after the movie at a restaurant for dinner. As one would expect, we began talking about the movie. I remember clearly that my friend said something like “You guys really believe that story, don’t you? To me, it’s just a fairy tale.”

Well, while as far as I know, no legal documents exist stating that Jesus, son of Mary and Joseph, was born on December 25, 0 A.D., there is literary evidence that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea. Read the Gospels of St. Luke and St. Matthew. And I guess you are either going to believe their writings or you’re going to assume they were big fat liars. Many historical scholars take their writings seriously. And I believe.

As all good story tellers, the writers tweaked the story a bit. I’m pretty sure the shepherds didn’t come that same night, nor did the three kings come a couple of weeks later. But I believe the Son of God was born to Mary in Bethlehem, and I’m sure he had humble beginnings, perhaps born in a stable. It is true that Mary and Joseph needed to go to Bethlehem to register, and it’s likely that there wouldn’t be a lot of places to stay, especially if you are a poor carpenter.

Anyway, I’m no biblical scholar, just a believing Christian. All that aside, every year around this time, I begin thinking about Mary, a poor Jewish girl not much older than my eldest granddaughter, going out to gather water or do some chore or another and suddenly being greeted by an angel with the astounding news that she was chosen to be the mother of the Son of God. She was going to bear a child even though she hadn’t been with a man.

Think about that. Think about small towns anywhere. The inevitable gossip would never end, no matter that Joseph agreed to marry her. Think about the fact that her child would never really belong to her. I don’t know if she knew about his inevitable end and I doubt she even came close to understanding what taking on this commitment would entail. Nevertheless, she had to be terrified.

And yet, she said yes. Neither Luke nor Matthew mention a word about Mary saying, “Give me just a minute, I need to think about this.” But I bet she did. Who wouldn’t? In the end, Mary made the ultimate sacrifice and basically gave up her life so that Jesus could fulfill the words of the prophets.

It’s interesting to think how things would be different had she said no.

This past week, I came across these two beautiful nativity prints on Facebook. Gari Melchers is the artist for the first painting. Unfortunately, I don’t know the artist of the second.

Every depiction I’ve ever seen about the nativity shows Mary and Joseph kneeling over the manger worshiping the Baby Jesus. Anyone who has given birth knows how absolutely exhausted Mary would have been, and how terrified Joseph would feel. Doesn’t this depiction of Mary and Joseph right after she gives birth look more accurate? Mary looks totally spent and Joseph looks absolutely stunned and terrified…..

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And words can’t express how much I love this depiction of Mary and Jesus…..

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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.

Vigilance

Anyone who grew up in the West or Midwest has heard of the National Western Stock Show, held each January in Denver. The National Western Stock Show is to cowboys what the Super Bowl is to football fans. Bill has been a member of the National Western for over 30 years, though admittedly he’s not a cowboy. We used to make an annual trek to the National Western complex just to walk around and see all the things we couldn’t live without if we were ranchers. And each year, as part of our activities, we would attend a rodeo.

1203338132_9oC39-MI always enjoyed the rodeo, but the activity of which I was most leery was the calf roping. The handlers would open a gate and send out a calf, which would run as fast as it could across the arena. A cowboy on a horse in strong pursuit would then twirl his rope and toss it (he hoped) around the neck of a calf, bringing said calf to a halt. A sudden halt. Gaaak.

I would always flinch, despite the announcer’s annual assurance that the calf wasn’t hurt by the practice, nope, not one teeny little bit. That sudden stop from a 30 mph run via a rope around its neck didn’t cause a bit of angst or pain for that little fella. Nosireebob. Nobody, however, asked the calf.

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Instead of a big tree in the family room, I am happy with my little table-top tree.

I thought about those poor calves yesterday when I realized it was the first Sunday of Advent. I think you will all agree with me that Christmas comes earlier each year. Oh, I know that it actually comes at the same time – December 25 – but it seems earlier because the season starts earlier. I remember when I wouldn’t start my Christmas shopping until December 1 or so. This year, by the second week in November I was a basket case because my shopping wasn’t done. Or started. Christmas decorations had been up in the stores for weeks. By mid-November, I had already seen several of my least favorite commercials – the ones with some kind of expensive car sitting in someone’s driveway with a huge bow attached to the top of the car. Seriously, those commercials get on my very last nerve. I challenge you all to tell me even one person who got a car as a Christmas present. And if they did, I’m certain – CERTAIN – there was no bow.

Grandkids decorating the angel tree.

Grandkids decorating the angel tree.

But I digress. As our deacon lit the first of the Advent candles, I came to my senses. Stop it right now, I told myself. Because you see, I had gotten so caught up in worrying about buying  Christmas presents and wrapping them and decorations and baking and such that I had forgotten to slow down and enjoy the season, which really is only now beginning. I felt like the calf coming to a sudden stop. Except I didn’t have a rope around my neck.

St. Luke’s gospel reminded me that this is the time of year when I should be thinking not only about the birth of Baby Jesus, but also about the Son of Man coming in glory someday. Jesus said “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness AND THE ANXIETIES OF DAILY LIFE….. Be vigilant at all times.”

I’ll be perfectly honest. I’m not too worried about my becoming drowsy from carousing and drunkenness (though I did enjoy the Beaujolais nouveau at our wonderful Thanksgiving dinner). I am worried, however, of getting so caught up in the anxieties that this season invariably brings to us that I forget that I should instead be enjoying this time of joy. The house doesn’t have to look perfect. The kids won’t die if they don’t have enough presents. Slow down, and  remember that Advent is a time to prepare for the birth of Jesus.

This post linked to the GRAND Social

Evil

142198193.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-largeIt so happened that the gospel at Mass this past weekend as we near the season of Advent was St. Mark’s take on what Jesus said about the end times.

….the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.

Dang, that gospel – as well as similar words coming from St. Matthew, St. Luke, and let’s not forget the light-hearted Book of Revelation as written by St. John – scared the HELL out of me when I was a kid. Frankly, it makes me squirm even now as an adult. I used to get caught up in all of the predictions about end times until Bill reminded me that Jesus goes on to say But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

Oh yeah. I’ll start using up the canned beans stored in my basement in preparation for the end of the world.

Despite becoming so mature, I will admit that I was struck by Mark’s gospel in light of the dreadful circumstances in Paris this past week. I wondered if and how the priest would address all of this in his homily. Is the world, in fact, coming to an end?

The priest who said our Mass retired from somewhere in Minnesota to the warm climes of Arizona and serves our parish during the winter months when the church’s population doubles in size. He is probably in his 70s with a gruff-sounding voice which belies his always wonderful and generally gentle homilies. But it became clear very quickly that he was PISSED OFF. He started off by saying should one of the ISIS members who terrorized Paris walk into the church, if he could make it back to him before he was gunned down by an AK47, he would punch the crap out of him. Not particularly priestly, but certainly an honest representation of the way many of us feel.

But he went on to remind us that it’s pointless to point fingers at God or wonder how God can let something like that happen. No one, said Father O’Neill, can truly understand evil. Probably not even the evil-doers themselves, who claim to terrorize in the name of Allah.

Father O’Neill never once used the word devil in his homily. Instead, he continued to use the word evil. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know how I feel about the idea of a devil. It’s a concept my teeny little brain can’t wrap itself around. But I do know that evil exists in our world – incredibly, horribly, awful evil. But God didn’t shoot those people who went out to hear some music or enjoy a nice meal with friends or family. Evil human beings used man-made weapons to do their evil deeds. And there has been evil in our world since Adam and Eve. The Paris attacks — and all other evil in our world — are not sure signs of the end of the world. Only God knows when that will be.

Father said perhaps God is testing our love, both for Him and for our fellow human beings. “But if I could,” said Father O’Neill looking up at the ceiling and heaven beyond, “I would definitely ask the Holy Spirit to stop the testing.”

Me too.