A Tree Grows in Jericho

Geocaching is one of my favorite activities with my grandkids. You will recall from earlier posts that geocaching is a virtual treasure hunt using a GPS system in which you are looking for tiny little containers that usually house nothing more than a piece of paper on which to sign your name.

The caches are generally located in fairly hard-to-find places, some that require, ahem, let’s say adventurous activities. Our geocaching quests have included Addie climbing along the side of a bridge over a creek (don’t tell her mom; I don’t think she knows about that one), walking through a tunnel that was owned by Denver Water (the bed upon which we walked was dry, and I prayed really hard the entire time that Denver Water wouldn’t decide to open up a valve and send water shooting through the tunnel while we were helplessly trudging through), and reaching under bushes or into holes that could (but didn’t) contain danger.

One such geocaching escapade in 2014 took Alastair and me into a well-populated park not far from our house. The description of the geocache fully disclosed that finding the cache would involve climbing a tree. Well, it certainly wasn’t going to be moi who would climb the tree. Alastair was 9 years old, an age at which climbing a tree seems fun. We located the tree, and before you could say Zacchaeus-the-tax-collector, Alastair proceeded to begin his journey up the tree, flip-flops and all…..

Zacchaeus, of course, was the evil tax collector from Jericho who was so excited to see Jesus speak to the crowds that he shimmied up the tree as fast as Alastair. His prize wasn’t a geocache. Instead, he not only earned the  chance to see Jesus in person despite his short stature, but he also received an invitation to join Jesus at dinner. This, of course, raised all sorts of Jewish eyebrows.  Jesus would rather eat with a sinner than someone as holy as us.

The thing is, Zacchaeus was as excited with his prize as Alastair was when he grabbed the geocache container that was hanging at the top of the tree. In fact, Zacchaeus was so excited that he immediately promised Jesus that he would pay back the money fourfold that he had collected under questionable means. Not only that, but he would give half his possessions to the poor.

I’m sure that Jesus was absolutely DELIGHTED that Zacchaeus not only had seen the evil of his ways, but was turning over a new leaf and instead of taking, would be giving from that point on. I, like Jesus, admire this man for turning greed into generosity, something I keep saying I’m going to do, yet somehow still look the other way at people holding signs.

But while I might have missed the point of the gospel story, I have to admit that I am equally impressed that this man could climb the tree so quickly, and apparently come down without breaking any important bones. Alastair made it up and down the tree pretty quickly too. But it would have been more difficult for Zacchaeus. After all, being a tax collector and all, he probably was older than 9, and he was likely wearing a long robe.

But he probably wasn’t wearing flip flops.

A Village

470689730-2So, there’s this particular family that goes to the church we attend in Mesa, AZ. I almost can’t keep my eyes off of them. Here’s the makeup: There is a patriarch and a matriarch, somewhere in the neighborhood of my age or a bit older. They have three daughters, two of whom are married, and one of whom is not (or at least her significant other never attends Mass with them). One of the married daughters has two children, a girl and a boy; the other married daughter has five children, all boys (imagine that!). The aforementioned second daughter’s husband’s parents sit with them as well, as does his brother and wife, who have a young son. Have you lost count yet? Some iteration of two or three of the aforementioned people come to Mass early so as to save a couple of pews so that they can all sit together – every Sunday. As the Mass progresses, the kids – who range in age from somewhere around 10 all the way down to six or seven months – move around from parent to parent and grandparent to grandparent. In fact, the kids don’t even choose by blood relation, as they will sit on anyone’s lap.

Well, I will admit that the patriarch of the family doesn’t get much involved in the lap-sitting. He just gazes quietly at the brood, undoubtedly thinking that he – like Abraham – has descendants as abundant as the stars in the heavens.

They are a sight to behold, as you might imagine. So much love. Such committed faith. That crazy, mixed-up family most assuredly demonstrates the old African proverb it takes a village.

God loves us in the same way that the members of that family love one another. He loves us without thought to who we are, what we do for a living, what we look like, who we will vote for. Unconditional love.

The gospel reading demonstrates God’s unconditional love of us, through his son Jesus. In the gospel reading, Luke tells us about the tax collector (and isn’t it ALWAYS the tax collector?) who comes to hear Jesus speak. I admit to be a bit distracted by the fact that he was so short that he actually climbed a tree in order to hear Jesus teach. Nevertheless, climb the tree he does, as ridiculous as it must have looked, even back in those days. But rather than saying “Get out of that tree; you look plain silly,” Jesus instead suggests the man come down out of the tree, and then, to the horror of the crowd, invites himself to the tax collector’s house for dinner. Why? Because the tax collector is sorry for the wrongs he has committed on a daily basis and asks for God’s forgiveness. And because God loves all of us unconditionally.

Perhaps we too need to learn how to love people for who they are and not judge because they think differently than we do. As I look at social media every day, it becomes more and more apparent that we have become a people who point fingers at one another. We judge – and ARE judged – by our political choices and religious beliefs.

Perhaps Jesus’ suggestion that the man come down out of the tree is the 30 A.D. version of turning off Facebook, which is maybe what I ought to do for bit.

And appropo to nothing that I spoke of above, here is a photo of another spectacular AZ sunset from my brother’s patio, more proof of God’s love…..

20161030_174934

I guess the short man didn’t try to climb a cactus.

This post linked to the GRAND Social

Hard to Be Humble

Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble
When you’re perfect in every way.
I can’t wait to look in the mirror
Cause I get better looking each day
To know me is to love me
I must be a hell of a man.
O Lord it’s hard to be humble
But I’m doing the best that I can. – Mac Davis

37830-pSix months or so ago, I wrote a blog post entitled Humble and Kind, inspired by the poignant song sung by country artist Tim McGraw. If you read this blog post, you know that my parents instilled the importance of humility in all of their kids.

You’re no better than anyone else, and no one else is better than you I heard my mother say on many occasions. I think this message really took hold in all of us.

Since the theme of last weekend’s Mass readings was humility, I thought about all of this once again as I listened to Jesus’ story about the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee bragged about what an exceptional person he was. He tithed. He fasted. He wasn’t greedy and unholy in the ways of many others. At the same time, the tax collector beat his breast and begged for God’s forgiveness for all of his sins. I am not worthy, he said.

Yep, I thought. I have lots of faults, but I’m certainly not like that nasty Pharisee. I am really tremendously humble.

And then I saw the irony in that notion. I’m prideful of just how humble I am. Oops. Disconnect.

Because the reality is that though on an intellectual level, I know I’m no better than anyone else, on a practical level, I hold my breath as I walk past a clearly unbathed homeless person, I look at distain at young people with huge holes in their ears, I hang on to old grievances, I gossip, and I judge people if I think they aren’t living the kind of life I think they should be living.

So am I really all that humble? Certainly not as humble as I’ve always thought I was, or so it appears. To be really humble, you have to let go of yourself and feel perfectly safe putting yourself into the hands of God.  And that’s easier to say than to do. It always feels safer to control your own life. And that might work well as long as things are going along just like you want. But when the time comes that things seem to be heading south, that is when it is most important to put yourself in the hands of God. To be truly humble.

In Jesus’ parable, the tax collector would not even raise his eyes to heaven, but instead begged for God’s mercy. The result? Jesus tells us that the tax collector is the one who went home justified, while the Pharisee did not.

For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.

Please God, forgive me for all of my sins and help me to be truly humble.

Miracles

In the past few weeks, I learned some difficult news about a couple of my friends. One was diagnosed with cancer; the other – a woman of my age — learned that she has early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. On both occasions I was nearly knocked off my feet. I reminded myself – once again – to never, NEVER whine and/or complain because I – on only two occasions — have had to go to the hospital and get a nasal gastric tube inserted. Life is all about perspective, my friends.

So I have, of course, added these two friends to my prayer list of people who are ill. But I can’t help but feel as though prayer seems just so insignificant sometimes. I pray for miracles, and wait for the miracles to happen. They never seem to happen, unfortunately. As far as I know, my prayers haven’t brought anyone back from the dead.

I thought of my friends yesterday as I listened to the readings. The first reading was from first Book of Kings, and talked about Elijah bringing a poor, lonely widow’s son back to life simply by asking God to do so. And then, in St. Luke’s Gospel, Jesus raised the son of a widow from the dead because her crying moved him so.

Whaaaat? Maybe the problem is that I’m not a widow. Or maybe I’m not praying hard enough, or in the right way.

Or maybe, just maybe, my prayers are being answered in unexpected ways.

Beginning immediately after Bill was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, I began praying every day that God would perform a miracle and cure him of the disease. Why not ask, I told myself. And every six months when we would go to see his neurologist, they would tell us he was doing remarkably well, but, yes, he still has Parkinson’s disease.

Finally, it occurred to me that while he wasn’t being miraculously cured of this thus-far incurable disease, he is still able to do everything he could do before. He might do it slower. He might need some help on occasion. Perhaps as time goes on, he will need more help. But God has given us a full seven years since his diagnosis to continue to live a good life. And we have grown closer, and I have learned a bit more about patience. All small miracles.

My friend who has been diagnosed with cancer posted a picture on Facebook recently of her and her husband eating breakfast al fresco at Denver Biscuit Company, one of her favorite restaurants. In the photo, her husband is looking at her and has his arm gently around her neck, and they are both smiling. It is the sweetest picture, and I cried for an hour after seeing it. In fact, as I write these words, I am crying. Perhaps the miracle isn’t that her cancer will be cured (though I hope it will be) but that the two of them will grow ever closer as she tackles her future.

I will keep praying for miracles because God can do anything. But I will try to stop sitting back and waiting for a dead man to sit up or a leper to be cured and appreciate the small miracles that happen every day.

Here are my miracles….

Family Photo

This post linked to the GRAND Social

I Baptize Thee…..

The Baptism of Christ by Andrea del Verrocchio and Leonardo da Vinci.

The Baptism of Christ by Andrea del Verrocchio and Leonardo da Vinci.

I don’t remember my baptism. Back in 1953, the Catholic Church taught that infants who died unbaptized didn’t go to heaven, but instead went to someplace it called Limbo. As nice as heaven but without the joy of seeing God, the nuns told us. And they could play this game where you tried to go backwards under a bamboo stick while steel drums and guitars were playing reggae music.

Oh, I’m just kidding about the last part. Newborns can’t even walk, much less dance.

Anyhoo, because of this belief, which (thankfully) is no longer part of Catholic dogma, babies were baptized as soon as possible – hopefully within days – maybe even hours — of being born. So undoubtedly most cradle Catholic baby boomers don’t remember their baptisms.

Bill was brought up Baptist, and so he was 12 or 13 when he was baptized. He explained to me that the Baptist church teaches that a person should be old enough to make the decision to be baptized, and so it is generally when they are a pre-teenager.  He was fully submerged rather than having holy water trickled on his head. Wow. When my son Court was baptized at age 1 month, he was inconsolable over that trickle of water. Of course, he was inconsolable for about the first four months of his life.

But I digress….

In Sunday’s Gospel from St. Luke, Jesus is baptized. I’ve always wondered why Jesus was baptized seeings as he had no sins, original or otherwise. I don’t have the answer, of course, but have believed that it was sort of God’s introduction of his Son – our Savior – to the world. After all, after St. John the Baptist baptized Jesus, God spoke from heaven and said, “This is my beloved Son.” So perhaps this was a sign that Jesus was human, but that he was going to fill us with the word of God because Baptism makes us one with God.

Not all of my grandchildren are baptized. This fact ranks among the top things in my life that hurt my heart. After the birth of one of my grandchildren, I met with our pastor.

“My heart is broken,” I told him, “and I don’t know what to do.”

His advice was stellar and I took it to heart, and continue to do so. “Do nothing but love your grandchildren and model your love for God to them,” he said. “They will one day make their own decision, and it will be the right one.” And he assured me that the Catholic Church no longer taught or believed in the notion of Limbo.

While the Catholic Church teaches that the sacrament of Baptism does, indeed, free us from sin, that’s not why I wish all of my grandkids were baptized. Kids don’t sin. They just are kids. However, I just think that Baptism brings us into relationship with God in a formal way, with friends and family in witness. It provides the opportunity for God to say, “This is my beloved (son or daughter). In you I am well pleased.”

Jesus’ baptism brought him into the community of the world. Baptism brings us into the community of the church. That fact seems important to me.