NO CRYING AT MY FUNERAL

NO CRYING AT MY FUNERAL

Sunday, December 4, 2011

WELCOME HOME -- ISAIAH 40

Welcome Home!  Today the  faithful of  St. Christopher parish in Moreno Valley heard Father Macabio, MS reflecting on his deeply personal reaction to chapter forty of the Prophet Isaiah.  His introductory remarks explained the historical setting of the Scripture reading that Catholics all over the world heard today. (December 4, 2011)
Isaiah was promising the exiled and enslaved Israelites that before long they would be freed and allowed to return to their beloved Jerusalem.  There, they would be at home with their beloved Lord, on their revered land.  The chapter is very poetic.  Those who have taken the time to read the words of Isaiah know this already.  Those of you who have still to bring yourselves to open your Bible, could resolve to do so during this season of Advent.  Start with this chapter.  You will not be disappointed.  I have Father Macabio's permission to use his ideas here.  They are a great table-setting for the reading of this chapter.  They are also a good lesson for us all.  They will help us to respect the connection between the Hebrew part of the Bible [Old Testament] and our Catholic part, which we call most often, the New Testament.
Isaiah tells the People of God that a time is coming when they will be free again.  They will be together in the Promised Land and there, because they will be Home, they will be happy.  Just like we all are when we go back home.
Mark the Evangelist tells us the same thing when he shows us John the Baptist promising the coming of the One who will Baptize us in The Spirit, as well as in water.  Thanks to the coming of the Messiah, we too know what Home feels like when we are faithful to Him.  It is here that Father Macabio got personal.
"The other day someone asked me what I wanted most for Christmas.  I had to say, with some sadness, that what I want I can not be given.  That is because, more than anything, I want to be home."  This sentiment is a true one, even though perhaps a little embarrassing for a missionary to say.  But, Peter was not shy to tell Jesus,  "Behold we have left all things, and have followed thee: what therefore shall we have?"  If Peter could talk like that to Jesus, I am quite sure that Jesus was not offended by Father Macabio's expression of his Christmas wish.  Even we, simple mortals were not offended, and still are not. Especially since we are mostly mortals who are in an "adopted" home anyway.  Don't we "all" come from someplace else?  It doesn't matter whether it is Caribou, Maine or Snowflake Mountain in the Yukon Territory or St. Louis, Missouri or even, like Father Macabio, San Mateo, Isabela, Philippines.  It doesn't matter whether it is warm or freezing cold; whether it is the super gorgeous Canadian Rockies or the mosquito infected forest of the Amazon.  If it is home, we all want to be there at Christmas.  Look at the picture at  the head of this piece.  I put it there because it features people of many different personal situations seeking the path back home.  Just like us.  
There was no Christmas yet when Peter turned on Jesus, but he knew that he was not home.  He and his companions  had left everything.  Don't laugh at that.  No matter how little or how much it was, it was still everything.  You're reading this in the comfort of your home, or on one of those new fangled portable electronic inventions.  That means that by looking around won't see much.  Next time you're in church, especially at this time of the year, look around you and let yourself identify the number of possible people in attendance who would like to be home for Christmas.  Chances are that you will start with yourself.  That's good.  It will help to give you an appreciation for the emotions of your brothers and sisters.
It is true that we make home where our heart is.  We also make home where necessity keeps us.  In Father Macabio's position, he makes home where the One that he loves most asks him to be.  That is no different than what many of us do.  We leave cities, towns and villages to follow our loved one.  We make our home together with him/her.  The where is secondary in many instances.  The who is more valuable.  The missionary is with the Who, and that makes the where less important.  If you read the Bible, even just a little bit.  If you know the stories of the Bible by heart without being an habitual reader, you will still know that Jesus Himself was far, far from Home when He was with us.  The Prophets went where the Lord sent them.  The Apostles left home to follow Jesus.  They left home to obey His command to spread the News.  Finally, they made Heaven their Home...the Home that they yearned for because it came to be more important than Bethsaida, Nazareth, Capharnaum, Tiberias, Bethlehem or even Jerusalem.
We all know that Jesus' home town is Bethlehem.  Every year it becomes our home town too.  We follow Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem where Joseph had to go for the census.  That's where we go every year too.  Deep down we know that Bethlehem is our home town.  It is the place where we are all born into the life that Jesus came to share with us.  We can't deny it.  No matter where we have been through the years, we always seem to come back to Bethlehem.  We all live in the spiritual Bethlehem.  We all come to a moment in our lives when we wonder when the back alleys of the town are going to get cleaned up.  [If you've ever been there, you know what I mean.]  We live through that period.  We go from "town"to "town" and we realize that there is nothing quite like good ol' Bethlehem.  The manger turns out to be the most comfortable bed that we've ever slept in.  We sneak back into town during the Christmas season just to see how things are shaping up.  We can't help but be shaken with the emotions that the sights, smells, sounds and ideas that float all around us are really the spirit of Home vibrating within us.  It is the moment to take our courage into our hands and do something about making our bed here where we really belong.
Yes, I am saying 'WE."  I include myself.  I try to come Home every year.  Every year is different.  Every year Home is just a little bit cleaner, and for me, anyway, mathematically, just a little bit closer.  The direction of the homily this morning pointed us all to Home in a special way.  Advent is the time of "housecleaning" of knowing that we are going to continue accepting the invitation to keep heading Home.  First, to Bethlehem, then to where ever Jesus wants us.  Even if we aren't missionaries like Father Macabio, we can still accompany someone else with us.  This is the time of prophecy.  This is the time of high appreciation of where Home is.  This the time of  Homecoming.  This the time when we all feel excited about the Event.  This is the time when we are all pregnant with Jesus.  We are all on the way to Bethlehem.  We know what to prepare for.  The last thing we want to do is to not deliver... literally.
With this background, you can either go to your Bible or click here to read the marvelously well written chapter 4o of the Prophet Isaiah.



Sunday, November 27, 2011

ALMOST THREE WEEKS LATER -- A CRY FROM THE GRAVE

This day begins the  era of endless silence for a voice that has been supporting me for thirty-four years.  The entire experience of this beginning is marked by the end of an era.  
It all began to come home to me when I decided  that to solve a small language question, I would email a Japanese friend of mine who follows this blog.  When I thought of doing this, I immediately realized that I had not heard from a long time supporter of mine for many days.  This fellow would send me at least 3, many times 5 or 6 emails per day.  They were the usual kinds of emails that people flood the ethersphere with these days.  Some I would open, some I wouldn't.  This pattern of his went on for over two years, so I could recognize the repeaters from the new ones.  So life went on.  When I thought of my Japanese friend, who also happens to be close to the emailing friend, I sent an email to the Emailer and said, "if you need help, tell me."  Then I emailed the fellow in Japan.  After that, since my curiosity was getting the better of me, I researched my email to see exactly how long it had been since the last email I had received from the once forgotten, now remembered emailing friend.  It turned up to be November 8.  Nearly three weeks.  I went about my business and kept checking my email to see what would happen.  Early this morning, it happened.  The mutual friend from Japan told me that George had died two days before.  
Now this is really the negative side of life in the fast lane.  A person who is present in my life every single day of the week, through more than one or two "pings" a day, disappears for 17 days and I don't notice the absence.  It is but through a coincidental mental connection that I even had the faint inkling of an irregularity.  It reminded me of when I shaved off the beard that I had carried for over one year.  It took a week before the first person made a remark about the fact that I was now clean shaven.  One week!  It is like information overload.  Or is it like an environmental habit, such as a "favorite" shrub that gets cut down from next to the main entry to your home and it takes a week or more to realize that there is a "hole" where the shrub used to be.  But this is a human friend.  Not just any, ordinary friend.  Read on...
I finally got some contact information.  His telephone number reached me.  I immediately called and the wife answered the telephone.  She had been seeking me for the entire three days.  She even went the fifteen miles to where she knew that I once lived full time.  She knows that my son lives there.  She got there, saw his vehicle in the driveway.  Knocked on the door a lot and got no response.  She finally went back home and found someone who could manage her husband's computer and was able to send me the telephone number by email.  We spoke for about an hour.  
Email is what you make of it.  It can be mechanical and it can be personal.  A continuous flow of it from the same source can become "white noise."  Like the stream behind your country home.  Or like the car radio that is on but not communicating because there are too many other claims on the driver's attention.  That's what happened to me.  It is too bad that the "Endless Silence" started early because my senses were someplace else.  

Saturday, November 19, 2011

SALVATION BY FAITH [ALONE] ? NOPE

Here we are.  The sheep and the goats.  The  believers and the doers .  The Ark builders; the Circumcizers; The Altar builders; The Seder organizers; The Exodus leaders; the Conquerors; The Prophets, The Kings; The Temple builders; The Widow  and Orphan protectors; The Martyrs, [think Maccabees] and the Apostles.  All of these and more on the right.

Then there are the Rich who know that they are blessed by God;  There are the Powerful who know that God supports them because they can afford to buy a horse from the Arabs; The Comfortable who are sure that God loves them because they can afford to buy myrrh from the Egyptians; The Poor who know that their downtrodden state is only the introduction to the gift of plenty that was given to Job; The Criers who assure God that they have accepted Him as their Lord and Savior just as He asked everyone to be.  Finally there are those who have been asked to sell all that they have and who walk away because that is too much to ask of them.

This is the challenge that we are all going to hear on this the feast of Christ the King.  The challenge in simple monosyllabic terms is "Do what I want you to do.  I want you to sell all that you have, leave your fishing nets in your boat and follow me."  The secret to Salvation is Believing and Doing.
Following the Will of God leads us to the sheep fold and keeps us there.  Anything else gets us into the goat camp.  You wouldn't want to be the Leon Culberson of all eternity, now would you?

21st CENTURY MARTYR # 5

Father Jim Brown

We continue our tribute to martyrs of our times.
This is a dynamic Ceylonese (Sri Lankan Tamil) parish priest who was murdered with impunity while on his way to his humanitarian mission.  At the time of his ultimate and non-negotiable witness for Christ, this brave Jesuit was all of  forty years old.   He was killed by the special forces of the Sri Lankan, anti Tamil forces.   Father Jim was not ignorant of the dangers of his mission to the minority Tamil people.  He nevertheless continued to care for them in the face of the ever present threat of death.  The life he gave was certainly the seed for other Catholic lives to grow from.  Catholic tradition assures us that the "blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church."  The tradition sustains us to this day.  We love our martyrs because they assure us of the true value of discipleship.  Click on the link shown above just beneath the photo for a more complete picture of the situation in Sri Lanka.



Saturday, November 12, 2011

TALENTS -- MINE IS THAT I TALK BACK




This passage of Matthew has a tradition all its own.  It is traditionally used as source of inspiration for work, for development of strong personal growth, of the overcoming of fear of retribution and the strengthening of personal courage in the face of risk.  It is traditionally used as a teaching to make the point that the talents that we have received from God require us to make every effort to bring them to greater and greater fruition toward the ultimate goal of eternal salvation.
The traditional position taken by the teachers is that the first two servants are the stars of the story and the third one is weak and afraid.  This is generally underlined by the description of the final state of the third person, he is left destitute and suffering out in the cold.  In the following paragraphs, I intend to break with tradition and present a way of reading and understanding the parable based on a long period of time of reflection and conversation concerning the story.  I am not a professional exegete, just a simple believer with a view about a very well known Gospel story.

I listen to the description of the master that comes out of the man with one talent.  Notice that the description resembles another one that we have read before in the Sacred Scripture.  Such as:  “So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.”  [Joshua 24;13]
We also can read similar words in the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 6, verses 10 and 11. 
Furthermore, the very next verse in Matthew’s Gospel begins the story of the last judgment.  This is the story that exhorts us all to share what we have with those who are “in the dark, where there is weeping and the grinding of teeth” because of the daunting penury that exists there.  The story of the Last Judgment does not belittle the poor, the hungry, the naked and not even those in jail.  In the meditation on the Last Judgment, even those in jail are not being judged as unworthy of receiving graces from God and help from God’s people for the sake of the Kingdom.  It is therefore in view of these elements that I now transition to my thoughts about the parable of the man who entrusted part of his treasure to his servants while he went on travel.

We move on to a story about a rich man who gives a different amount to three of his “employees” or acquaintances, who knows.  He leaves them with the expectation that they will make the investment that he has made in them grow.  When he comes back he takes from them what they made, but it does not say what he gave them back.  What we do get to know about this man is what the third fellow tells us.  He is a hard man.  He takes what he wants from whomever, whether it was due to him or not.  “You harvest where you have not sown…”  The man agrees and repeats the exact same words and then tells the man that because he knew that he should have put the money in the bank so that the hard nose, avaricious exploiter could have earned the interest.  He is now real angry and has the poor guy thrown out into the darkness.

Isn’t that what happens when the “little guy” speaks truth to power.  The one talented man had one very precious talent, in my book.  He did not co-operate with what he considered to be immoral behavior.  Not only did he not co-operate, he resisted and he said why despite knowing what the consequences would be.  I admire that.  I’ve been there.  It is a very interesting situation. 

I notice that Jesus does not elaborate on the lesson that he wants to make here.  Like I said earlier, tradition has the lesson going the way of putting the rebel down.  Lately, I’ve been allowing my mind and my heart to wonder about just what it really is all about.  Maybe you should ask yourselves too.  The answer may just convince you that I don’t deserve to have you crying at my funeral.

Friday, November 4, 2011


REMEMBERING  ≠  NOSTALGIC REMINISCING 
REMEMBERING  =  STAYING JOINED TO THE COMMUNITY 

For the last couple of weeks, I have been reflecting on the true meaning of remembering.  Then, the other day I was struck by the fine weather and so I opened fully all four windows of the auto I was driving and just enjoyed myself driving around like I used to when I was  17.  It was then that I got to thinking about a lot of related things.  Things like when I first drove around in a new “hardtop convertible”  I am sure that there are some of you who remember  the introduction of these cars.  I think it had to be in the ‘50’s somewhere.  Late 50’s maybe.  I’ll Google it and get the right date for you.  [Late 50’s is good enough for what I mean.]  I am quite sure that it was about the time when the “unibody” concept of building cars was being introduced to the industry.  Anyway, that’s one of the things that ran through my mind.  One of the others was the way that we have shut ourselves into the interior of our vehicles, not allowing ourselves to “communicate" with the environment.  We don’t feel the vibrancy of the rushing air; we have no feel for the ambient noise caused by traffic; we can’t even cuss one another out any more;  no more trash talk to the bum from the other side of town who snagged the cute blonde cheer-leader before you got to her; and what ever happened to “slide-over-baby” bench seats? 
The interesting thing about all this is that I was not just running these things through my mind, I was actually living them as the air ran into and through my “open-air” ride.  I wasn’t just reminiscing, I was uniting myself with the reality that I and others had lived before today.  I was re-membering.  I was back in community with the realities, mechanical, environmental, social, emotional and communitarian.  Yes, I was in a specific community again.  Not just yearning for myself, but sharing the spirituality of the experiences in a mystical way with the other humans who had lived the same truths and who are presently still aware of them at some level. 
I am not very fond of playing word tricks with myself and with other people, but lately the “member” part  of “remembering” is making sense to me.  It is bringing me into an understanding of the human community of which we are all members.  It is also bringing me into a deeper understanding of the community not only of the living but of the unity that continues between us, the living and those who have died and “gone on” before us.  The nature of this remembering is familiar to Catholics who designate the month of November as the month of the “Dearly Departed.”  In the Catholic world, the soul is eternal and it is perfectly singular, never to be repeated in its individuality.  This is what is meant by the word “ineffable.”   Therefore, a part of Catholic life is the continuation of a spiritual connection between all members of the human community.   That is why Catholics continue to intercede for and in fact, in some instances, ask for intercessory prayers from the individuals who have died but who remain members of the “Communion of Saints,” the community of all souls. 
Catholics get this conviction from the Israelites and the Hebrews who had, and still have, a powerful belief in the “member” part of remember.  The Passover celebration is all remembering. The prayers are full of remembering.  The Psalms are pregnant with remembering.  The Gospels are constantly reminding us of the forebears of Jesus.  We are never allowed to forget that this is the son of David.  We are not even allowed to forget the Passover.  Every time we celebrate the Eucharist we are told, “Do this in memory of me.” 
None of this is very far from our everyday lives.  No matter whom we are.  No matter what our roots are.  No matter what our spiritual convictions are.  Without a deep appreciation for remembering, we are incomplete.  What normal human being goes through life without remembering birthdays, wedding days, death anniversaries of mother, father, siblings, graduation anniversaries, major surgeries???  The list goes on.  Remembering is our connection with human beings.  It is the glue of our unity as a race.  It is also the fundamentally solid and deepest reason why not a single one of you should even dare to cry at my funeral.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

21ST CENTURY MARTYR #4

Annalena Tonelli, 1943 - 2003  
Lay Volunteer
This is a person who lived the evangelical counsel that Jesus gave to the rich young man who approached him and asked what he had to do to get to heaven.  Jesus told him to obey the commandments.  When the young man said that he had done that all his life, Jesus told him, you still have something to do, "Go, sell all you have, give the proceeds to the poor.  You will have treasure in  heaven.  Then come and follow me." (Matthew, 19; 21)
Annalena was a lawyer.  Yes, a bona fide lawyer in her native Italy.  After a few years of dedicating herself to the needy in Italy, she decided to give her life to the poor in Africa.  Her first work was in Kenya with Somalian refugees, where she was very active in trying to convince the population there to stop mutilating women through the practice of infibulation.  She was so active and so zealous for the kingdom of God that she was ambushed twice and survived.  After the second time a judge told her that though she had done nothing illegal, it was impossible for anyone to assure her that a third attempt on her life could be prevented.  She therefore moved to Somalia where she could work directly with the Somali people.  During all this time, Annalena furthered her studies in various western European countries to make herself more expert in God's work for His people.  Not long before her assassination she was awarded the Nansen Refugee Award, which is given annually by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to recognize outstanding service to the cause of refugees.
She, like many martyrs through history exercised the charism of prophecy given to us all in Baptism to perfection.  She answered the call of Jesus to seek perfection by selling all, giving all to the poor, even her very life blood, walking in the footsteps of hers and our Loving Savior, Jesus.



Tuesday, October 25, 2011

21ST CENTURY MARTYR #3

SUORA LEONELLA SGORBATI
A beautiful, young and dedicated young lady became a glorified soul by the right hand of God when she was shot down in Somalia by evil maniacs.  The worst element of them all is that she was shot in the back. In the back!  After thirty years of selfless dedication in the training of people whom she loved in the name of God, she was rewarded by the cowardly act of being shot to death in the back.  I chose to put this picture of her in the flower of her youth because she has deserved to be remembered in the flower of her terrestrial life.  Yes, physical beauty is indeed the reflection of the Grace of God alive in the soul of the missionary.  This grace outlives age.  It doesn't limp.  It doesn't shut off the lights in eyes that shine during a smile.  It doesn't make a supportive hand uncomfortable.  It doesn't make modest, loving embraces uncomfortable intrusions.  No, the feet of the missionary skip lightly over the difficulties of the terrain that leads to eternal life.  She went back to God at the age of 66.  Her birth into the intimate company of her Beloved Bridegroom happened in a humanly disgusting and ugly tableau.  It nevertheless makes her spiritual presence in the mission the seed from which more children of God will spring.  I invite you to click here for more details about the life of this faithful and loyal bride of Christ.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

THESE DAYS THERE ARE NOT SO MANY MARTYRS #2







Clement Shahbaz Bhatti (9 September 1968 – 2 March 2011), popularly known as Shahbaz Bhatti, was a Pakistani politician and elected member of the National Assembly from 2008.  He was the first Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs  from November 2008 until his assassination on 2 March 2011 in Islamabad.  Bhatti, a Roman Catholic, was an outspoken critic of Pakistan's blasphemy laws and the only Christian in the Cabinet.  Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for his killing and called him a blasphemer of Mohammad.
You can read the touching story of this courageous Catholic by clicking here.
The 21st century has its martyrs too.  Through their witness, we will continue to be a holy Church. It makes it easier for me to be convinced that no one should cry at my funeral.

Monday, September 26, 2011

THESE DAYS THERE ARE NOT SO MANY MARTYRS # 1

The title of this post is a quote from the pulpit on the feast day of the Memorial of Saint Andrew Kim Taegõn, priest and martyr and  Saint Paul Chõng Hasang, martyr and their companions, martyrs.
Not so fast, Father.  You might want to check the news occasionally about what is going on in Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, China, North Korea, Indonesia and other exotic and interesting places around the world.  This century is but 11 years old and there are already several people who have spilled their blood on the ground, protecting their faith and their corner of the vineyard of God Himself.  You might say that several (10+) is not a large number and indeed it is not.  But then again, when Deacon Stephen was stoned, it made the Scripture, and that was only 1.  I am not suggesting that because we now have fewer than when Diocletian was running wild that we should rewrite Scripture.  What I am saying is that giving blood witness for the sake of God is a sacrifice with eternal repercussions and should be respected and venerated as such.  In order to give some meaning to to the deaths of the people who have died for their faith in the last eleven years, I invite you all to this new series dedicated to the 21st century martyrs whose names have made it to the contiousness of the Communion of Saints dwelling here on earth.
Fr. Ragheed Aziz Ganni“Christ challenged evil with His infinite love.  He keeps us united, and through the Eucharist, He gifts us life which the terrorists are trying to take away.”
We start with Father Ragheed Aziz Ganni and three sub-deacons of the Chaldean Catholic Church.  The sub-deacons were Gassan Isam Bidawed and Basman Yousef Daud, cousin of Father Ganni and sub-deacon Wahid Hanna Isho.
These four men of God were gunned down after boarding their cars after the Sunday Holy Eucharist on June 3, 2007.  It seemed as though it might have been possible for Father Ganni to escape the ambush.  To his credit, he knew that the assassins were looking for him, do in order to lessen the damage and to try to  save the lives of the others, he did not run away.  The thugs threw him to the ground as they unloaded the other cars and demanded, "why did you not close the church like we told you?"  He answered, "How can I close the Church?"  With the answer, the four witnessed to their faith with their blood.  They were placed in their cars which were then blown up by bombs that were placed inside the vehicles.  Sub-Deacon Isho's wife who was spared by the killers witnessed the whole thing.
I invite you to read the more complete reporting of this incident here.


A personal note:
I know relatives of Father Ragheed who live in San Diego.  They had T-shirts made with his likeness on the front.  I know that they were angry in one way and proud in another.  There was no crying over this death.


Next to die was Father Ganni's bishop.  His story is next.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

RANDOM THOUGHTS? REALLY -- UNH-UH -- IT'S GOD TALKING


OBIOU - TABOR? - SINAI? - MORIAH?

It is impossible to live a Catholic life without being a dreamer.  When I stop and think about it I realize just how much I dream.  My dreaming rarely takes place during sleep.   I dream all day long.  Sometimes even 25 hours a day!  Unlike Jacob, Joseph and the Magi, I get my dreams during the day.  I'm too busy with more important things at night.  When I'm there I'm practicing what being dead feels like.  I do admit that after a few hours of that exercise, it does feel good to be able to see the ceiling over my head.
                    xxxxxxxxxxxxx==========xxxxxxxxxxxx
The first sentence above is the driver of the following.  I have written several paragraphs of "religiously neutral" thoughts about "Random Thoughts" in other venues.  I felt empty when I wrote those because I was striving to find a "natural" meaning to the phenomenon of "Random Thoughts."  I enjoyed the search, but all the while I knew the truth.  I am more comfortable with my Catholic convictions about thoughts that "just run through my coconut."  I am 100% comfortable with the faith that what comes to me freely, not as the response to some perceptible stimulus, comes from Grace.  God and his company of saints and angels want me to know something consciously that can help me to lead a better life.  I lead a life full of these wonderful nudges to my brain and my heart and my soul.  Let me give you a few little examples of the kind of "spiritual life" that I lead.  All of a sudden I think of someone whom I know to have been critically ill.  It has been six months since the last word about this individual.  I say, "Our Father, if you're telling me that you've taken this good lady by the hand, I am happy for her.  If she has to wait a while before joining you in the Garden, please take some of my pain and put it on her tab.  Oh, and by the way, please continue to take care of those she has left behind."  It is more often than not, the case that the person has left the valley of tears.  
There is also the time when I notice a missed telephone call from an unknown number, from a weird area code.  I, have the habit of calling back to see who called.  If it is the IRS, I just tell them that they're lucky that day because I prayed for the caller before ringing it up.  One IRS lady was happy to hear that.  God bless America, right?  
Our Catholic life has changed somewhat in the calendering of the saint of the day.  We used to be able to tell whose birthday it was that day by checking the name of the saint for that very day.  It's not like that too much any more.  The old habit dies hard though.  I find myself writing E-mails to Joaquin, George, Louis, Maria, Lucia, Perpetua and some others who inhabit the spiritual part of my brain, usually referred to as the soul. 


I live this way because it is a convenient way for me to remember to pray.  Not just FOR the person I suddenly meet in memory, but to GOD whom I consider to be the master of what I am and do every day.  It is good to have a sensitivity to the divine presence.  It is good to keep ourselves alive to the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  It is not difficult to remember to pray if we stay awake to the "random" nudges that God gives us many times every day.  We have to respond immediately.  If you're like I am you say to yourself, "I'll get back to this one."  That's the one that I lose because it is here now and gone in a trice.  So I thank God that He does that for me.  Keeps me remembering not so much of Him, personally  but all those people and events that slide into my mind and heart from unexpected and even, unstimulated sources...except God Himself, of course.
If you get into this habit, you will discover a change in your life.  Don't thank me for it, just don't cry at my funeral.

Friday, August 26, 2011

YOU DUPED ME, LORD!


Reading 1 Jer 20:7-9

You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped;
you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.
All the day I am an object of laughter;
everyone mocks me.

Whenever I speak, I must cry out,
violence and outrage is my message;
the word of the LORD has brought me
derision and reproach all the day.

I say to myself, I will not mention him,
I will speak in his name no more.
But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.

[This resembles psalm 69.  Check it out.]
::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
I saw this today as I was preparing to direct my thoughts for the impending travel to Europe on the same day when this is going to be proposed by Our Holy Mother the Church for our edification. This is a powerful passage for many reasons, not the least of which is that it describes me so well.  How many times have I said that I would hold back.  I would not stand for the set backs in His Name any more.  I was going to be a Pew Sitter, mind my own business, shut up, make the sign of the Cross, sit there and listen and go home and watch football, or some such inanity.  Ha! Never happens.
I remember when I changed career and life-style [nothing to do with rainbows] I told a dear uncle of mine that I was tired of "working with people."  I was going to get a $10.00 an hour job, sit there and shut up.  Put my time in and leave.  Play pool three nights per week.  He looked at me and said, "Stercus Taurorum, you will never be unable to live like that.  Get used to it."  He was right.  He was doubly right when it came to Faith, Doctrine and Religion.  There is no way that I can camp out in a pew.  Like Jeremiah, and like Paul, by the way, I can't shut up.  I have to let God through.  
Is this pretentious?  I don't think so.  As the liturgy of the day implores, "My soul is thirsting for you Lord." (Psalm 63)  When we thirst, we say so.  When we thirst, we don't just sit there, we speak up.  It doesn't take much.  A glass of water is all it takes.  That is not pretentious, it is the voice of Mother Nature being communicated.  When we talk about God, it is not we talking, it is God Himself speaking through us.  No matter what it is.  It can be as simple as "Please remember me and my family in your prayers."  Just like asking for a glass of water.  At the same time it is a confession of faith.  We have just told the hearer that the action of God through us cannot be stifled.  Is that pretentious?  Of course not.  Am I out of school in this?  No.  Examples?  Plenty.  
How many efforts do we make every day to stay neutral?  "I hope all will go well."
"I'm confident that we'll be fine."  "You know, the doctors today can do miracles."  You got the picture.  Jeremiah is telling us that the fire of God's love in him cannot be stifled.  His prayer is that God fooled him into thinking that life would be easy.  He blames God for making his life "impossible" because even though it is dangerous for him to prophesy, he can't help it.  


As it turns out, Jeremiah was actually in hot water.  His life was, in fact, in danger.  There was a time in his career that Jeremiah escaped to Egypt to save his life.  He came back anyway, and he continued to make life miserable for the very same people that he was harassing with God's word before his exile. The urge is too great.  And, he says, "God, it's all your fault.  You duped me. But, look at me, "...it becomes like fire burning in my heart,  imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it."  


No matter who we are.  No matter what our name is.  It could be Moses, Joshua, Deborah, Samuel, Nathan, David, Solomon, Isaiah, Jonah, Amos, Ezekiel, John, Jesus, Steven, Peter, James or Paul, we cannot be simple pew sitters.  We cannot be spectators in the life of faith.  The fire of the Spirit is too hot.  We have to respond.  We cannot be neutral.  When we stand up in front of the altar, walk down the aisle and confess our belief that this is His Mission and My Mission, we are signing up for the job.  We might think, like Jonah, that we can neutralize ourselves in the hold of the boat going in the opposite direction.  No way.  God's whale has a way of swallowing us and coughing us up onto the beach in front of those who need us the most.  So, we have to stay ready.  When we walk up to the altar  to join in the Presence at the table of the Divine Sacrifice we have to know that we are accepting  the mission.  We have to know that God is going to preach through us, whether we like it or not.  Just like Jeremiah.  We often have the temptation to think, "Hey, I didn't sign up for this."  Think again, little brothers and sisters, we sure did.  We will never be able to put out the fire in our hearts.  God will always keep it stoked and we will have to speak God's truth by word or by act, do not doubt it.  Like it is written in Isaiah, chapter six, ..."the Seraphim laid a hot coal on my lips..."  


I therefore leave you all with these final words.  The Sacred Scriptures are full of stories about humans who carry the Truth to the world because they carry the Flame of the Spirit of God in their hearts.    We who are brave enough to listen to the written, spoken and lived Word are among those Priests, Prophets and Kings who do God's work every day.  That is not pretentious, that is God's Mission at work in us.  When we have lived a life full of this mission, then we will be ready for the moment when God reaches out His Hand for us to take us with Him to the Everlastingly lush Garden of Heaven.  When that happens to me, be sure that I will not be expecting any of you to cry at my funeral.


  


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Allow me some comments about life and some of the lessons that God teaches us through it.
Winning isn't all it's cracked up to be.  I am not making this up.  I used to think that winning was "the ONLY thing."  Then I lost a few.  The first ones were always because the other guys had been lucky.  There were some when the other guys caught us on a bad day.  Then, there were always the cheaters on the other side.  I was glad that for the most part, growing up I won more than I lost.  I never was "lucky" though.  Not me.  I was good.  Better than most of the rest.  Then I moved away from the warm confines of my small home town.  Then I really had to prove to myself that I was in fact, better.  It wasn't easy.  Nevertheless, I did manage to win more than I lost.  None of this .500, break-even bull for me.  I would wonder how some people could go through life at .500.  I still do.
If there is one important thing that I have learned it's that winning is not everything.  Sometimes you have to be able to be satisfied with survival.  As I've grown older, I have come to learn that sometimes even survival isn't anything to brag about.  I think of the 9/11 survivors.  I think of the Great Tsunami survivors.  What about the Chilean miners?  The Japanese tsunami/nuclear survivors. The prisoners of war who survive.  Escapees from concentration camps.  Do any of these humans ever regain what they had before surviving?  I often think about the soccer players who survived a plane crash in the Peruvian Andes.  They survived in large part because they ate the remains of those who had died.  You call that winning?  Do you even call that true survival?  Surely, they are alive.  I wonder if call it "being alive," boldly..  And they were athletes.  Competitive sorts.  They had to be good since they were on their way to an international match.
The Bible has some really great examples of Chosen Ones who were successful at what they did, but were never really totally fulfilled as long as they were alive.  I think of Joseph, the son of Jacob who despite everything became a powerful person in Egypt.  Thanks to his success and his rise to power he was able to provide God's people with a good life.  But before he died he won it all.  He was able to forgive his brothers.  He therefore lightened their burden by cleaning their conscience.  Then to make his survival complete, he made his brothers swear that they would bring his bones back to be buried next to his ancestors in Canaan. (Genesis, chapter 50)
The reality that shakes me the most is the one in which a person survives bad habits that are self destructive.  You'd think that this is the most exalted victory of them all.  If that is true, why do the ones that I know suffer so much from their "victory?"  I know people who have "survived" different things.  Drug abuse; alcohol abuse; the practice of violence towards others; prostitution; mental aberrations, etc.  All of the ones with whom I am familiar are happier than before.  True.  It is also true that the residue is "killing" them.  The Gospel stories and parables have strong lessons in them. They all have a "punch line."  They also have a mission attached to the punch line.  You know, easy stuff, like, "...Sin no more."
I could go on for quite a while about this.  Be that as it may, I leave you with the story the way it is.  I leave you to your own devices.  After all, I do not have the answer[s], as neither do you.  It is a mystery with which we all have to live.  I can only wish that the reward for winning was always pure and absolute happiness.  It isn't.  No matter how much you win, or how much you survive, happiness will never be distilled to its purest form.  We have to get used to it.  Sadly, some of us never do.  I hope that those of you who follow this series can handle living with this mystery.  Plus, I sincerely hope that you will win more than you lose...in short, survive.  I'm still convinced that it is better than the alternative.
Do I need to give you any more reasons why you should not cry at my funeral?

Friday, August 12, 2011

CANAANITE WOMAN -- WHO IS SHE?

It is always interesting to see Jesus being tough on someone.  For so many of us Jesus is a nice, gentle, forever merciful person.  So many of us do not bother to go beyond our acceptance of the stereotypical Jesus of the sweet holy card art.  So many of us gloss over the parts of the Jesus story that show Him exercising His Father's Justice and living out His Father's decisions.  So often we forget that Jesus had been taught The Law by his parents.  They were Temple People.  His Uncle Zechariah was a priest and Jesus' mother was close to the family.  Remember Elizabeth?  Jesus also knew the Writings and the Prophets.  He knew who the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were.  He knew who the descendants of Cain, Ham, Ishmael and Esau were.  He knew it much more than we do.
When we hear Canaanite, Edomite, Amorite, Samaritan we, if we have any idea, think of a corner of the world.  A region.  We relate to Canadians, Mexicans, Chinese and Japanese, English and French as coming from somewhere.
When Jesus saw Canaanites, Edomites, Amorites, Jebusites and Samaritans He related to them as coming from someone.  That's who the Canaanite woman is.  She comes from Ham, who came from Noah, who came from Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve.  Jesus did not even have to look it up in Google.  Jesus knew that Ham was a pariah son for having disrespected his father and invited his brothers to do the same. [Gen. 9; 18 ff]  Ham was then cursed, personally as well as in his descendants, as Cain had been after his crime.  The Canaanite woman then, as so many others whom Jesus meets along the way, are the fruit of those who sinned and turned away from the righteousness of God.  Jesus, and his followers, know who they are from whom they come.  They knew that these were not the people of Moses.  They knew that these were not the people who were the children of those who suffered in Egypt for 400 years and walked through the desert for 40 more. No.  These were the people who were alive only because God had cut them some slack, big slack.  They were in the Promised Land because they, or their forebears had survived the onslaught of the Chosen People who were conquering the land in the name of God and His promise to His people.  
Jesus then has a moment, and there are many in the Gospel, when He reminds His People that His Mission is to them.  That's priority red.  Then, after the strong words fail to weaken the woman, comes the BIG lesson.  "O woman, great is your faith!  Let it be done as you wish."   Faith. Faith in a son of Shem, the good and respectful brother of Ham.  Faith in a son of David.  Faith in the Son of God, the Messiah, who is not afraid to get outside of His "comfort zone" to bring comfort and solace to everyone, no matter from whom they come.  
Jesus did not follow the advice of His disciples to "send her away."  He had something to say to them, and He was going to make sure that they not only heard it, but would see it too.  He knew that she had to be undergoing strong inner turmoil because her people, her brothers and sisters from Ham, must have been emotionally disturbed by her outrageous behavior before this Jew.  The cultural clash contributes to the power of this story.  At the reading of the first words out of the mouth of Jesus, we can easily jump to the conclusion that this is a die-hard "red neck."  The full story shows us that like His Father, Jesus is at the command of the needs of everyone. In this story we have the introduction to the "Servant King" with the towel around His waist.  
Finally, there is something very important about the life of Jesus.  It is something about which we do not think enough.  It is the fact that Galilee, then as now, was not a very deeply religious region of the Promised Land.  It was, and is, a region of commerce, a region of economic stability, a region of ethnic and national diversity.  It was, and is to this day, a region that is not appreciated by the true, deeply religious Jew.  It is the region where secular action takes place.  It is the region of political dialectics.  Strength versus strength, weakness against weakness, all mixed in with ideologies, religions, politics and economics.  Look at the map.  You'll get an idea.  Then look at a New Testament map, and you'll see the connection.  Jesus lived and preached at least 80 percent of His life in the Galilee.  It is 100 miles from Nazareth to Jerusalem.  It is at least one day's walk from Capharnaum to Tyre and Sidon.  Was Jesus going to the beach?  He had it right there in Galilee.  He and His disciples had reasons to go there.  It is an area where fishing was an important part of the economy.  So He and His "buddies" were going "fishing."  Along the way, He "caught the big one."  It does not seem to be recorded what His professional fishermen friends thought about the "catch."  
So, what do you say?  Care to go fishing?  That's not what Jesus says.  He says, "Go fishing.  Throw your net over all oceans.  Take everything you catch on board and bring it to me."
By the way, no need to dry at my funeral.  I've gone fishing.

Friday, July 15, 2011


SHALOM
It is with great pleasure that I move over and give some space to a meditation that does justice to the spirituality of "SHALOM."  This reflection comes from the heart of a person who knows that security in life comes only to those who live it in the constant presence of God.  The effective presence of God is the true SHALOM.  I invite you all to open yourselves to our brother's reflection.  Let us thank him for giving us permission to hear God speak to us through Brother Phil's expression of SHALOM.
There is a state of mind that is a help in being receptive to the answers to prayer. This state of *Being* or 
mind is the urgent help of calm confidence, and peace-filled open mindedness, to our Father God's Word.
Shalom is this alignment, this connection, to the Divine Directions given us in the stillness of the present
moment. Our Lord Jesus Christ purchased this 'alignment ' for us so that we may partake of the many
Blessings that our Father God has for us.     In, with, and through, 'Shalom' we are above the inactive,
stagnant, uncertain, and fear driven mindsets that often surround us. Unshakeable Trust envelopes our
*Being* causing even our understanding to be still and  to know that God is God. Shalom shows us our Lord
Jesus Christ moving with and through our actions, moment by moment.      Each moment we (you and I)
have the 'Now' opportunity to allow God-Omnipotent to change disorder into order, chaos into cosmos,
death into Life. This assurance of Shalom gives us the trust we need to be healthy, happy, prosperous, and
Loving, no matter what the surrounding circumstances may dictate to us.      Shalom is the Peace that
is felt, and the security found in our Trust of a renewed Faith.    Shalom in, with, and through us
does not demand, (command) our Father God to do according to our desires. With Shalom we trust
that the *Perfect Fulfillment of  Good* will occur properly and at the *Now* appointed time through God's Will.
Shalom is always available, always present to be found.     So, with this focus known as Shalom !!
Let's let our Father God be our Father God, and show His marvelous  actions in all that we do !!!
                                                                        Br. Phil Bara. 7-12-11

Saturday, July 9, 2011

COMPETITION -- ME AGAINST THE WORLD -- ME, IN THE WORLD?

THIS IS NOT JUST HUMOROUS,
IT IS CHALLENGING
Thank you, Doug Savage.  This is a very demanding thought.  The "thought" of competition came to me this morning while listening to the story of how the sons of Jacob had to swallow their pride and their guilt since they had decided to throw themselves at the feet and the mercy of their brother Joseph.  He, whom they had nearly killed, but subsequently saved by selling him to some Egyptian merchants.  He, in turn, saved his whole family from sure death by starvation by using the high position of power and influence that he had attained in Pharaoh's court.  I had to think that he had to be one tough competitor to be a lowly stranger in the land of the highly civilized and rise to a position of authority and power in the capitol. I admire people like that.  I admire people who are starving, yet go to New York to jump-start a career.  It's the thing to do for certain people.  You know, "If you make it here you can make it anywhere."
I remembered Joseph, of course.  I fairly wept when I heard the reader declare the forgiveness with which Joseph covered his brothers.  It got even more emotional when he had them swear an oath that when his prophecy that they would someday be liberated, came to its realization, they were to bring his bones back to the Promised Land so that he could be buried by his ancestor, Abraham.  It is powerful when someone who has won it all doesn't forget where he/she came from.  
I was also thinking of the time when, at the very front edge of my change of careers I was talking to an older friend of mine about my career plans.  I said that I was not really afraid about being jobless for very long since I have a master's degree and speak, read and write four of the popular languages of California.  He was not impressed.  He prophesied that I would soon find out that the world is populated with people with more education, better focused education and who speak read and write seven languages and who have five certificates to prove their value to the world.  The truth of his words was soon slamming head-on into my life.  What a lesson!
I did OK, but I never forgot that prophecy.  How could I forget?  I had to confront its existence in fact, every single day.  
It took a long time, but along the way I discovered that I would win some and loose some, not simply based on cold, hard reality, but helped along by that other little respected, but highly effective reality, politics.  I hate them.  But I also like to eat.  Slowly but surely I came to realize that as difficult as it is, getting into league with the competition can contribute the key to the answer to tomorrow's dilemma.  I didn't learn that in the vast ocean of me vs them, all 5 billion of them.  It was more me, side by side with the strict few immediately below and immediately above.  I learned this from observing the behavior of lawyers in the courtroom, and in the "courtyard" so to speak.  In the courtroom they are locked in "deadly battle," yet they are civil to one another once they cross the threshold and go to lunch.  Go back to the cartoon by Doug Savage and think about it a little bit more.  The lawyers know something that we don't always know and appreciate.  They know that the key to their winning the argument is perhaps to be more clearly revealed to them through the behavior of their direct opponent than through the efforts of their very own labor, both individual and corporate.  This is an extremely counter-intuitive conviction that I have about life.  This is a conviction that I have developed because I came to this conviction by going back to my friend Karl Marx and his philosophy of material dialectics.  It is in the fruit of the tension between the negative and the positive that new manifestations of the truth are born.  The courtroom is the perfect laboratory for this exercise.  I saw it on two occasions from the jury box and at least four other times in the deposition room when I sparred face to face with the claimants' attorneys for hours on end.  There were two of those.  One who taught me how not to be a human being and the other taught me some of the positive lessons illustrated above.
I leave you now with one of my favorite sayings.  It does not come from anyone famous, but from a fondly remembered fiery ice hockey opponent against whom I enjoyed "playing." He used to say, "Competition is good for the soul."  I agree and I respect his insight. I did not cry at his funeral, and he, naturally, will not cry at mine.
...neither should you.

Friday, July 8, 2011

"LET 'EM LEARN ENGLISH"

You've heard this before, I'm sure.  I have heard it too.  In fact, I myself confess that I have even said it a time or two too many.  With that, I plunge into a reflection about an old French Canadian saying, Qui perd sa langue, perd sa foi.
Who loses his language, loses his faith.
The truth that underlies this saying is akin to the Church saying, Lex orandi, lex credendi.  What we pray, we believe.  The Church is therefore not the place to be hearing "let 'em learn English."  The Church is a community of saints who want to pour out their hearts to God in their own language.  The mother tongue is the tongue that God understands because it is the tongue that jumps from the heart.  There is abundant fodder for reflection about this in the Bible.
A clearly narrated story about language disparity can be found in the Bible passage found here. (2 Maccabees, 7)  The mother of a son about to be massacred is asked to reason with him by the person in charge.  She speaks to her son in their own language and encourages her son to give his life for the God who created us all.  Read it.  The killing king is one person who rued the day when he did not learn the language.
Have you ever asked yourself how the Romans dealt with the Israelites? Have you ever asked yourself how the Jews were so successful in maintaining their faith in God despite so many captivities and military occupations?  Have you ever smiled at the passage when the servant woman reminds Peter of his Galilean accent?  Have you ever asked yourself how St. Paul could talk to the Greeks, the Turks and the Italians?  Did you ever ask yourself why Peter was hobnobbing with the Italians in the seaport city of Caesarea while James was left in Jerusalem with the Jews?  Did you ever ask yourself how Phillip could convert the Ethiopian?  It sure wasn't because they had the attitude of "let 'em learn Aramaic."
Did you ever ask yourself why in the 3rd century BC the Hebrews decided that they had to translate the Sacred Scripture into Greek because so many of their people had lost their mother tongue that the Word of God had to be translated into Greek so that it could be appreciated by His very own people?  It sure wasn't because they had the attitude, "They're our own, let 'em learn Aramaic."
Our history, our Tradition, is that the missionary learns the language of those to whom the Message must be brought, not the other way around. The New Testament tells stories of conversion based on the willingness of the Apostles to learn to speak the language, both of the outsider and of the Jews who had lost their very own language.  Peter learned Latin (Italian) while still in his own country.  Paul knew Latin and Greek and spoke them when he had to, to those to whom he wanted to bring the Message.
It is clear that it is not up to the missionary to force others to accommodate to him/her.  It is the other way around.  God demands that we speak to everyone.  Speaking the message of God requires that we speak the language of the heart and soul of the listener.  If we don't, we are placing the Message in second place after our personal comfort.  St. Paul never did that.  He preached in season and out of season.  He knew that it was not up to him to speak, but up to the Spirit.  He accepted the spiritual reality that the Spirit talks to people, not to Greeks, Italians, Turks, Syrians, Men or Women.  In order to let the Spirit do His work, the missionary has to accommodate his very own being to the Being of the Spirit so that the hearer can trust the Word enough to let it blossom into Faith.  (Matt. 10:20) "...it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you." That is a long way from "Let 'em learn English."

All of this being said, I confess that when I pray in the privacy of my room, I pray in my mother tongue, not in English.  I have neither lost my tongue nor my faith.  So, I haven't learned to pray in English, nor in any other language than my own mother tongue for that matter.  I say that just so that you will have another reason not to cry at my funeral.  I refused to develop a relationship with God in English.