"True belonging is born of relationships not only to one another, but to a place of shared responsibilities and benefits. We love not so much what we have acquired as what we have made and whom we have made it with." Robert Finch, "Scratching," The Primal Place, 1983
Comparing connections and relationships you had in school and those you have had at work, which ones had the greater impact. Name names for yourself.
Talk with your spouse and close friends about the people who have impacted you in your life. Who comes to mind first?
What was your best work place? Was it the work or the people there who made it the best?
What was your best school moment? Have you figured out reasons why?
Now re-read the words of Robert Finch once again. Does it make more sense after reflecting upon these questions?
To have a relationship with the Creator and Maintainer of the Universe?
To have a relationship with the Someone who is larger than space and time and smaller than 1000 million miles inside the tiny of an atom?
You’re kidding! Right?
And if you’re a Christian, to have a relationship with someone who lived 2000 years ago?
And add a Third Reality - A Holy Spirit - you’re kidding!
I once met a man - a man in his 80’s - down on the North Carolina - Tennessee border who told me that every morning when he wakes up - he keeps his eyes closed - and he wiggles his toes and if they wiggle - he thanks God for another day of life.
Now, because of that man I have found myself wiggling my toes for the last 32 years at odd times - in the middle of the Mass - but always after the sermon - during boring meetings - while writing.
Hey I just did that right now.
See it proves I’m alive.
How about you? Wiggle your toes.
It’s a miracle. I got you to wiggle your toes from miles and miles away.
Then say with a smile on your face, “Thank you God for this moment.”
Wow! Not only did I get you to wiggle your toes and smile, I also got you to pray.
I know all those proofs for the existence of God and I just finished Hitch 22 - A Memoir by Christian Hitchens who writes that he’s an atheist.
My toes: what a great proof that YOU exist, God. Want to wash my toes? I’d love to wash yours if I could. I know I can’t, so I’ll try to wash others’ toes - metaphorically, of course.
Now wiggle your toes and all the rest of you as you sing the song on the top of this reflection. Smile. Sing. Wiggle!
What dashes and destroys our dreams and our values?
Is it hanging around at coffee breaks with cranks and complainers and those who have given up?
Is it walking by parks and not slipping onto the swings again or sliding down the slides when nobody is looking - and oops there is a little kid we didn’t see, who sees us and points us out to his dad with a great smile on his face?
Is it no longer singing? Is it too much sitting there in front of the blessed sacrament - the TV tabernacle?
Is it the lack of songs in the sound studio of our heart?
What dashes and destroys our dreams and our values?
What wakes us up?
What gets us to hear God’s footsteps in the cool of the evening in our garden?
What got Jesus to leave the carpenter shop in Nazareth and walk our streets and hills healing and telling us his stories?
What got him to say, “Come follow and dream with me?”
She never, never liked going to Teacher’s Conferences! Been there, done that, dozens of time.
But a new principal at their school noticed that teachers hadn’t been going for updates for years now - so updating was the first topic on her agenda as new principal. The teachers griped and groused, growled and reluctantly signed up for workshops - the shortest and closest ones they could find.
Duty calls. She went. She got the certificate.
Standing there on stage - after being named “Teacher of the Year - she knew exactly what she was going to say, “4 years ago I reluctantly went to a Teacher’s Conference. A talk I chose - I figured it would be the easiest was, ‘Creativity in the Classroom.’ The presenter gave lots of examples, but the one that changed my life was an old song and video she played. It had Harry Chapin’s song, ‘Flowers are Red.’ Oh my God, I was caught red-handed. There I was Teacher # 1 and I decided to become Teacher # 2 - so I guess that’s why I’m here today. Thank you.”
The therapist asked a simple question. It was her favorite - because it always told her so much: “Tell me the name of a best friend?”
So she asked it another way: “Tell me the names of the 5 best friends you had in your life?” She added, “When I was in school someone said, ‘If you have 5 friends in your lifetime, you’re lucky.’ So think for a moment and tell me the names of 3 or 4 or 5 friends you’ve had in your lifetime?”
She was sort of frustrated - so she became silent for what seemed a long, long time. Actually it was only 3 minutes. Then she asked, “Looking around at the people you are with every day, do you notice any close friendships?”
She decided to say nothing - till he said something - but nothing was said. She thought to herself: “This is the first time I ever had a bishop in for counseling. Does he really not have any friends?”
There are not just mountains and oceans, rainbows and rain, water skiing and snow skiing, there are also relationships: mom and dad, nana and pop, mother and daughter shopping, a father and a son having a catch.
Yet, we don’t stop enough to see a snow flake sticking to a window pane - or the rain running down the clear glass - or the shape of one French fry - compared to all the others on our plate - just resting there next to our hamburger.
Worse, still, we don’t stop to look each other in the eye - enough. Oh, we did it when the baby was a baby - rubbing noses and wondering what’s going on inside those eyes - in that brain.
Harry Chapin has a song I love, “Tangled Up Puppet”. It’s about a father and a teenage daughter. For one moment he says, “Playing tag in the yard I caught you off guard!” For one moment they looked each other in the eye. More.
INTRODUCTION The title of my homily for this 32 Tuesday in Ordinary Time is, “The Readings at Our Funeral.” Two things triggered the thought for this homily. I think I preached something on this topic in the past, but I’m not sure just what I said. Who remembers homilies? Smile! Today’s first reading triggered this thought - because most of it is part of a reading in the paperback pamphlet people are given at the time of preparing a funeral for a loved one. When I heard it, it triggered jumbled memories of dozens of funerals when today’s first reading was read at the funeral Mass. [Cf. Wisdom 2:23 to 3: 9.] The second experience that triggered this thought was a funeral we were at yesterday afternoon at 2 PM up in Stella Maris, Timonium, Maryland, for one of our priests. MY TURN It was my turn to do some thinking about what music - what readings - I’d like at my funeral. In the past two years at funerals, I’ve found myself saying that the most important homily and most important thing to think about at a funeral - is what’s going on inside one’s own mind and heart during this funeral. Then I add, “I assume it’s thoughts about your life and relationship with the person who died and then one’s own thoughts about one’s own life and death.” So I first thought about Jack Smyth - the priest who had died. I was in the seminary with him all through our school years. He was in the class ahead of me. Then I was stationed with him for about 6 years in the late 80’s into the early 1990’s. He was a strong - unique - hard working - priest - who could make quick funny takes on life. Then I began thinking about my own funeral. The readings sounded like they were not picked by Jack - but both the first reading and the gospel fit in well with Jack’s life. And Father Joe Krastel preached a faith filled homily about Jack’s life - using the story at the end of the Gospel of John - where Mary is standing under the cross of Jesus with John. [Cf. John 19: 25-27] So is it better for someone else to pick the readings - especially the family because they know the person who died - and /or the preacher if he knew the person who died? For music I’d like "Simple Gifts" - the Appalachian Spring piece - played. I asked Harry Thomson if that could be done and he said, “Yes.” Then he added, “I hope you’re not planning on dying.” I said, “I hope not. I would like at least 15 more good years of life and ministry.”
To practice what I’m preaching this morning, let me mention my possible choices for readings. I’d certainly pick Psalm 130 - because it contains the Redemptorist motto - "Copiosa apud eum redemptio" - “With him there is fullness of redemption” - but it also pulls together the Redemptorist message of forgiveness and mercy for all - especially for anyone who is in the depths of worry or in the pits of doubt or sin. For a first reading I’m still not sure. Maybe I’d pick the story of Joseph near the end of the Book of Genesis because he was a dreamer - and he ended up providing bread for the starving and I love handing out Jesus the Bread of Life. Or maybe I’d pick one of the servant sections or songs in Second-Isaiah - where deserts bloom, mountains leveled, valleys are filled in, rivers flow, so God can come in power to redeem his people. I like Irish blessings which often have rich images from nature - and I find that kind of poetry and imagining in Isaiah especially. [Cf. Genesis 41: 46-49 or Genesis 43: 24-34; Isaiah 49:8-16a or Isaiah 55: 1-5 or Isaiah 55: 6-13.] For a gospel, I might pick just one sentence in the gospel of John - 10:10. It’s actually only the part of that verse, “I have come that you might have life and that you live it to the full.” That would be enough - because I want to live life to the full and God has certainly given that gift to me so far. Or I might pick Jesus washing our feet in John 13 - where Jesus does just the opposite from today’s gospel - where the master has his feet washed and he’s served. Nope, Jesus fed and washed feet. [Compare John 13: 1-20 with today's gospel, Luke 17:7-10] CONCLUSION You? What music and what readings would you want? If you have favorites, write them down and hand the info to someone significant. Or after you die, listen carefully from the box to the readings others picked for you after they wheel or carry you to the front of the church. How’s that for a new meaning to the words, “Think outside the box.” In the meanwhile, live life to the full for at least the next 25 to 50 years or more. Amen.
INTRODUCTION The title of my homily for this 32 Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, is, “Wisdom: The Readiness Is All.” Recently, I listened to a teenage girl talking about being totally surprised when she found out that her dad actually heard her when she said out loud to him every everning, “Dad, how was your day?” She would ask that and he would grunt a throw away response back to her. Surprise! She found out in a letter from him from a distance - afterwards - that he appreciated hearing that question every night when he got home after a long day at work around 7 PM - along with dealing with the traffic coming home. So how was your day? So how's your weekend going? So how was your life going so far? TWO THEMES The title of my homily is, “Wisdom: The Readiness Is All.” I chose the theme of wisdom because that’s a key theme in today’s first reading and I chose the theme of “readiness” because that’s a key theme in today’s gospel. PART ONE: WISDOM Let me begin with the theme of “wisdom” - Part One of this homily - and then say some words about “readiness” - Part Two of this homily. Scriptures, fairy tales, literature have a vast collection of stories about being wise and not being a fool. The obvious reason is to strive for wisdom and don’t be a fool. There are enough of those. Wisdom - “Sophia” in Greek - became a theme in Hebrew life - when Greece was a super power in the Mediterranean basin and then spread out into Asia. So we have in our Bible - in the Hebrew section, not just the prophets and the history sections - but also the later section called, “The Wisdom Literature.” Today’s first reading is from the Book of Wisdom and next Sunday’s first reading is from the Book of Proverbs. In today’s first reading Wisdom is pictured as a mysterious entity - feminine - present everywhere - in every situation - for those who want wisdom, love wisdom, and are searching for her. Listen again to the first part of today’s first reading from the Book of Wisdom with that in mind: Resplendent and unfading is wisdom, and she is readily perceived by those who love her, and found by those who seek her. She hastens to make herself known in anticipation of their desire; whoever watches for her at dawn shall not be disappointed, for he shall find her sitting by his gate. If you’ve been to a Greek Orthodox or an Eastern Rite Catholic Mass you’ve heard the lector - the reader - the cantor - hold up the scriptures and chant, “Wisdom! Be attentive.” Talk about changes in the liturgy, I always thought that would be a good addition to the liturgy of the Roman or Western Rite of the Church. “Wisdom! Be attentive.” I remember hearing a public speaker tell about her granddaughter who came up to her once and said, “Grandma, why do you always say, “What's the lesson in that?” At that, her granddaughter stopped her for a moment. She hit her grandmother’s mute button. Then after pausing, she said to her granddaughter, “Because there’s a lesson in everything.” Then she told us, “The lesson I learned at that moment is: kids are listening.” And, “Kids can tell us a lot about ourselves if we listen.” I remember hearing a story about a dad who had only a few years of schooling. He would ask his kids when he came home from work, “What did you learn in school today?” And the story teller said, “And he meant it.” I learned from that, that not all words and comments and tiny questions are throw away words and comments and questions. And this dad would sit there and have his kids teach him stuff - geography, history, math, - things he never learned during his 4 years of elementary school. As they say, “The teacher learns more than the student!” Those kids looking back at their dad at his funeral told everyone in a eulogy that was one of the things they learned from their dad. I learned from someone to jot down on one page of a spiral note book a quick list of what happened that day - like a shopping list - just one or two words indicating something that happened on the menu of that day. It’s something I suggest to people who ask for spiritual direction. So at night I pick up my spiral note book - put the date, time, and place, on top - and then say a short prayer like, “Come Holy Spirit” and then make my list. Then I look at the list and ask, “Which one had the most energy - or most emotion - or excitement - or drama - or what have you?” Then I put a circle around it and think and pray about it and then go to sleep on it. It takes about 5 to 7 minutes. “Wisdom! Be attentive.” Someone also told me to take a journal with you on whatever trip you go on. Then at the end of the day, write down what happened that day. After a long, long day, this can be a chore. Doing this I learned a see a lot more the next day - because I have homework to do that night. I also learned that I look at what happened that day - a good bit more - and pick out its lessons - even though I’m dead tired. So on trips I have both those books: my spiral note book and a journal. They add to the weight of my bag - but I also hope they add to the weight of my life. Wisdom! Be attentive. There is a difference between knowledge, information, and wisdom. The smartest person is the world can be a fool. The world’s literature has all kinds of stories about that reality. Wisdom is reflection and learning from knowledge - but especially from experiences. I remember hearing in a talk somewhere that someone who works at the same job can have 20 years experience or one year’s experience 20 times. I didn’t hear anything else in that talk but that. It triggered the question: “How do we milk an experience for its wisdom?” Two quick answers: Talk - better listen to each other about our life experiences. Ask questions. Jot down stuff. Secondly: keep asking, “Is there a lesson here?” I look for déjà vu’s. Life is filled with them. When has something like this happened to me before? I like good questions. The question mark is designed the way it is for a reason. It’s a hook! PART TWO: THE READINESS IS ALL As you know the comment, “The Readiness Is All” is something Hamlet said. Somewhere along the line - in some school hall way or classroom or somewhere I saw a poster on a wall - that was glossy white paper - with a big, big rich green circle on it - and in black bold letters in the green circle were the words, “The Readiness Is All!” Those 2 words are still on the walls of my mind - but I don’t always see them. It’s the message of the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts: “Be Prepared!” It’s the message of the military - the police - firefighters - CIA, FBI, NSA, Homeland Security, especially after 9-11 - but it’s always been there. “The Readiness is All.” It’s the message of today’s second reading - but especially today's gospel and in various sections of the New Testament - but especially in these readings for the end of the Church Year. Many in the early church thought that Christ was going to come back at any moment - so you better be awake - on the ball - ready - and not be like the foolish virgins or bridesmaids in today’s gospel. The Early Church had to make adjustments when this didn’t happen. It’s now 2000 years later. It still hasn’t happened. And if we know the history of the Christian World, we know that there have always been predictors of the end of the world by a specific, certain date. Surprise, it hasn't happened yet. The Rapture hasn’t happened. If we know anything, we know there always will be predictors of the end of the world. Some people will then get ready. Then when we pass the due date, they will be disappointed or have to do some kind of recalculating. I predict that. Cry, "Wolf!" too often - and people will stop being prepred for wolves - even if they come in sheep's clothing. So preachers then apply this readiness theme to our own death and demise. You never know the day nor the hour. Or preachers and spiritual writers stress the presence of the Risen Christ who has already come - and is present on every crossroad and every meal, every wedding and every sunrise, every hurt and every healing. The readiness is all. CONCLUSION The end is near. That's a joke - my homily is about to end. What’s the lesson here? What’s the wisdom here? As I listened to my homily, I sense that in this sermon, I'm pushing for a general attitude towards how to do life. What is your basic attitude in how you do life? I prefer St. Francis de Sales advice about life - summed up in two Italian words, “con calme” - “with calmness”. I prefer Thornton Wilder’s words - which I often quote to myself - even though I’m a diabetic, “My advice to you is not to inquire why or wherefore, but just enjoy your ice cream while it’s on your plate - that’s my philosophy.” Those words are from the first act of his play, “The Skin of our Teeth" . I never saw that play, but I like that line. I've seen Hamlet several times - and I find myself saying, "This is not the person I want to be like." The title of my homily is, "Wisdom: The Readiness Is All." "The readiness is all" are Hamlet's words. That was his approach to life. They are from Act 5 of Hamlet. As I watch Hamlet I can sense: here is someone who is living a nervous, indecisive, moody, mind shifting, mode of life. I think one ought to be ready - but not do life with tension, tension, tension, stress, stress, stress. Be ready - but I'm sure firefighters take good naps, play cards, chat, enjoy ice cream - but are ready at a moment's notice to answer the call. So I prefer the wisdom of being ready but not being a nervous wreck about it. How about you? Enough already ....
"Teenagers travel in droves, packs, swarms .... To the librarian, they're a gaggle of geese. To the cook, they are a scourge of locusts. To department stores, they're a big beautiful exaltation of larks .... all lovely and loose and jingly."