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.

Are You Sure? I’m Positive!

You’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
But don’t mess with Mister In Between. – Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen

The other day I was talking on the telephone with my brother, and we got on the subject of the power of positive thinking. We both agreed that thinking positively can have a tremendous impact on one’s life, and even on one’s health. My brother told me that Bill is his model for thinking positively. Despite the fact that the world dealt Bill a hand that included Parkinson’s disease, Dave said in the morning when he’s praying for all of the people he knows who are sick, he has to remind himself to include Bill in his prayers.

“Bill is so upbeat all of the time that I forget that he’s got Parkinson’s,” Dave said.

Bill is, indeed, one of the most positive thinking people I know. And that poor man married me, Ms. Glass-Half-Empty. Oh, I’m not the world’s most negative person, but I do tend to go to the worst case scenario if I have half a chance. Not Bill. He is always, ALWAYS certain that things are going to turn out okay. And what do you know? They almost always do.

St. Mark’s gospel on Sunday was about the blind man who asked Jesus to make him see, never doubting for a moment that Jesus would let him down. And, of course, Jesus told him his faith had saved him and gave him sight.

Interestingly, Father Larry’s homily wasn’t about faith, but instead, was about forgiveness. He mentioned the church shooting that took place in Charleston, SC, in June of this year. Nine people in all lost their lives in that shooting at the Emanuel AME church, all African Americans. I remembered the shooting, but what I didn’t know is that the families of the victims all chose to forgive the shooter rather than becoming embroiled in hatred. Wow. That is amazing. I told Bill after church that I’m not sure I could forgive someone who killed a loved one.

Forgiveness is difficult, but if one is committed to thinking positively, forgiveness simply MUST be part of that package. If one is embroiled in hatred, positive thinking is out of reach.

Of course, as I thought about positive thinking, I thought about the song with the lyrics above. That song was written in 1944, not long after the Great Depression and at the height of World War II. Imagine encouraging people to ac-cen-tu-ate the positive and e-lim-i-nate the negative when you are surrounded by the violence of war. Apparently it was modeled after a consistent theme that Baptist ministers had long used. In fact, that’s where Johnny Mercer got the idea for the song. He heard a sermon by an African American Baptist minister in which the minister said ‘you got to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.’ Sound familiar?

Homefront_(U.S._TV_series)_dvd_coverAs an aside, every time I hear that song I think about a television show in the early  1990s called Homefront. The show took place during and immediately following World War II, and its theme song was Accentuate the Positive. I loved the television show, and wish like crazy that I could find it somewhere. It’s where I learned the words to the song, which now are using up brain cells along with the words of every song ever written in the 60s and 70s.

Maybe if I think positively, I will find a copy of the DVD…..

This post linked to the GRAND Social


The Eye of the Needle

6vs1q4go1mdabh35c1qtsldqs.1000x976x1Every time I publish one of these blog posts in which I talk about my spiritual life, I’m uncomfortable. After all, who am I to feel like I have anything to tell anyone about being a good and faithful servant of God? Attending a Catholic school from Kindergarten through 12th grade certainly doesn’t give me the necessary credibility. Especially since I was sent to the principal’s office on more than one occasion because my uniform skirt didn’t meet the necessary guidelines, i.e., touching the floor when kneeling at daily Mass. People – it was 1969! Oh, it did once I got to the principal’s office because the reason my skirt was short was that I had folded over the waist three or four times. It probably doesn’t surprise you that I didn’t really fool the principal when I entered her office with a skirt down to my knees. (It didn’t fool my mother either, but as good a Catholic as she was, she never really thought highly of some of the school rules. I remember when I was in grade school, a rule was issued that girls couldn’t wear sleeveless dresses to school. “Oh, yes,” I remember her saying, “because there’s nothing sexier than a 6-year-old’s underarms.”)

But I digress, something I do very well.

Despite my lack of credibility, the gospel readings keep slamming me in the face, and I need you all to assure me of my salvation. For example, in yesterday’s gospel from my old friend St. Mark, Jesus tells the rich man that in order for him to make it to heaven, he had to give away all of his worldly goods.  Dang, thought the rich man. Gulp, thought I. St. Mark tells us the rich man’s “face fell” and I’m certain mine did. It does every time I hear that gospel. Heck, I don’t want to give away my big screen television. How am I supposed to watch the Broncos or Dancing With the Stars?

As I sat back to listen to Father Larry’s homily, I was prepared to hear him assure me that I didn’t have to give up my iPad after all. As I recalled, every time that particular gospel is read, the priests assure us that we don’t have to give up everything and eat only locusts and honey. To my relief, Father Larry did, in fact, assure me giving away everything was unnecessary. However, he put it in a way that actually made some sense. He pointed out that Jesus told the rich man that he should follow the commandments: You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal and so on. The rich man assured him that he did indeed follow all of God’s commandments and had since a mere youth. For the most part, so do I, or at least I try.

But, said our homilist, Jesus went on to tell the rich man – and therefore me – that it isn’t simply what we don’t do, but just as important, or perhaps even more important, what we do.

Gulp, I thought again. Because the fact of the matter is that while I think about doing a lot, I mostly don’t getting around to doing anything. I can be more generous with my time and talents. When I get mail from nonprofits asking for money, I can actually give money instead of tossing them out without even opening the envelope. I always tell myself I should carry a stack of one dollar bills and when I’m at a stoplight where someone is holding up a cardboard sign, I could actually hand him/her a couple of dollars without thinking about whether or not he or she deserves my money. After all, it isn’t up to me to judge.

“Then who can be saved,” the disciples asked Jesus, who responded, “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.”

Even saving my pitiful butt. I’m going right now to put some dollar bills in my car.