I have never forgotten Jess Lair’s comment that if you have 5 friends in a life time - pinch yourself - you’re lucky - count yourself blessed.
Okay, I have to know those who touch the
tassel on my cloak and energy flows -
with them I have a connection - a history - memories.
To forget them - too often - I might fall off their short list and end up
on their other list. Now that I don’t want to happen and that tells me who we really are - and who’s who on who’s list? Thank you friends. Thank you God!
[This is a story based on something someone told me happened to their brother's family recently. I wrote the story this morning for a high school Mass.]
Sometimes we never know what’s going on inside the mind
of the kid in front of us in our home room. We see his skull - the back of his
head - but we don’t know what’s going on behind those walls. We see the cover
of the book - but we haven’t read the pages of that book.
Sit in that classroom long enough and we know they are
bright … smart … a good athlete …. Or what have you. But that’s all we know.
Okay we also know their name - Tina, Tom or Tony. We know what neighborhood they come
from. We know they have two other siblings. And maybe a dozen more tidbits
about them - but that’s about it.
This year - just 4 weeks ago - from Holy Thursday,
Easter, and then the rest of Easter week this kid sitting in front of us was in Disneyworld - first time for all the family
- but Tom told no one in his class about the trip.
Actually, Tom really didn’t want to go - because it was a
long car ride trip from River City to Orlando. It meant he’d be in the back
seat - directly behind his father - in their dark red old Camry. Actually Tom
liked that seat - because it was the best place, best space to hide out in a
Tom’s father was a yeller. Tom’s father was an angry
man. Tom’s father could explode in
verbal outbursts all the time.
On the road it could be toll collectors. “They’re too damn slow! There on their cell
phones. They don’t give a damn about all us poor slobs trying to get to Florida
- to Disneyworld.”
“Beep…. Beep …. Beep…. That driver in that blue SUV is an
Tom’s dad could be a rapid roaring river.
At home it was mom who got yelled at the most. At other
times it could be Tom. He had a brain, but he just wasn’t an A Student. At
other times it was his younger brother. Rarely was it was his younger sister -
she got away with everything. Yell…. Yell …. Yell…. So that’s why Tom didn’t
want to go on a day and a half on the road - in a tight seated back of a car -
with an angry at life dad with an acidic tongue.
To save money at Disneyworld, all 5 were in a small motel
room - some 18 minutes from Epcot Center, the rides, the whole experience
At least once a day - usually in the morning - it was mom
whom dad turned his cannons - his blasts - and fire power towards.
At least once a day - Tom would say to himself, “Why
doesn’t she just divorce him.
At night, every weekend, when home, his brother and
sister hid under their ear buds - trying as best as possible to block out -
their dad’s rants.
All through the years Tom tried to hear his mom’s cries -
console her - and keep the family together. Those who said, “The oldest in the
family have the most responsibilities might be right.
Dad never said, “Thanks” or “Nice going” or “I’m proud of
you son.” His sister might get a positive compliment once and a while.
Hey, one kid is usually, the favorite.
The noise, the rides, the background music, the scenes,
the settings at Disneyworld, helped distract dad - a bit more than usual - but
at least once every day - everyone got at least one shouting match - well not
his sister as much - but his mom, his brother, and himself - they got showers
of words and attacks written with red stink and words covered with barbed wire.
Tom’s brother had a good musical ear. He was the first in
the family who would often start humming the musical score for “Trouble in
River City” when dad would go into a tirade.
Even his sister would turn off her iTunes when started humming that
song. And the funny thing was that their dad never knew it was directed at him.
Ooops one more thing…. On the way home they drove to
their grandfather’s house. They had never met their father’s father before.
Tom was all eyes - without knowing he had an underlying
question about his dad. “How did my dad get like this?”
He got the answer on that side trip back home. His father
was a Xerox copy of his father. Their
grandfather was also an angry man. Their grandfather was also a yeller.
Tom wanted to ask his father, what was his grandfather
like? Could he be in the path or 3 yellers.
That gave Tom an even deeper silence? What about me? What am I going to be like: my dad, my
grandfather, my great grandfather - or a saint like my mom.
Time will tell…. Nope. I will tell. I will tell my
friends and my family and my world, that I am Tom and I will be Peace. I will
be Peace --- Peace that will be flowing like a river.
“I AM A CATHOLIC” OR WOULD I SAY, “I AM A CHRISTIAN?”
The title of my homily is, “If Asked, Would I Tend To
Say, ‘I Am a Catholic’ or Would I Say, ‘I Am A Christian’”?
A QUESTION BEFORE MY MAIN QUESTION
Before answering that question, here’s a primary
question: If asked to describe oneself in 10 statements, would I put on my
list. “I am a Catholic,” or “I am a Christian?”
Or would I list other characteristics?
On various high school, college or post college retreats,
people are often asked to describe themselves in ten “I Am” statements. I have even
seen 20 or 25 I Am questions to describe oneself.
someone might answer:
·“I am a husband,”
·“I am a wife.”
·“I am a father.”
·“I am a mother.”
·“I’m an Annapolitan.”
·“I am a waitress.”
·“I am an owner of a restaurant.”
·“I am an engineer.”
·“I’m a baseball fan.”
·“I am introvert.”
·“I tend to be last minute.”
·“I’m a procrastinator.”
·“I’m a reader.”
·“I’m a person of faith.”
·“I am frugal when it comes to money.”
And on and on and on.
So my question again, “, “If Asked, Would I Tend To Say,
‘I Am a Catholic’ or Would I Say, ‘I Am A Christian’”?
IT ALL DEPENDS
I would suspect most people would first say, “It all
It all depends if I would put “I am a Christian” or “I am
a Catholic” or all three on my top 25,
“I am” list.
Then it also depends of what one understands by the word
“Christian” and the word, “Catholic.”
They both have similar and various meanings.
Some would use the word an adjective - meaning a
Christian is someone who is kind and merciful - generous and loving - aware and
caring towards others. One goes he extra
mile. One who turns the other cheek. One who is a Good Samaritan. One who
visits the sick. Clothes the naked. Visits those in prison.
Then there are people like C.S. Lewis who would say it’s a noun. If you’re
baptized, you’re a Christian. Then add adjectives. I am a lazy Christian. I am committed
Christian. I am a Christian sometimes.
By Catholic some would think a person who is all of the
above as a Christian, but they see
themselves in a parish and they follow the teachings of that church.
Some would say. “I am a Catholic Christian” - different
than a Lutheran.
Some would say I fit the description in today’s first
reading. “It was in Antioch they were first called Christians.”
I have it right, people don’t have those little cards for one’s wallet anymore.
Remember them. They said, “I am a Catholic, in case of an accident please call
a priest.” Or “I am a very important
Catholic, please call a bishop or the pope."
The title of my homily for this 4th Monday in
Easter Time is, “Gatekeepers.”
Here are some thoughts triggered from today’s readings,
especially the gospel.
Yesterday and today and tomorrow we’re listening to the
10th chapter of the gospel of John. Yesterday we heard Jesus talking
about himself being the Good Shepherd. Tomorrow Jesus will talk about his
connection - his communion with those who know his voice. Today Jesus describes
himself as the Gatekeeper to the Sheepfold.
Gatekeeper to the sheepfold is a metaphor - or figure of
speech - as John uses. We can all
picture a sheepfold or pen - or a corral for horses or a kennel for dogs.
I can still picture very clearly a scene from my 12
days in Palestine in January 2000. We’re
in a bus going up the road from Jericho to Jerusalem. I’m looking out the left
window - seeing more that way. The roads and driving are the same as in the
United States. A good bit of the trip there was a tiny shoulder on the right -
and a big wall of earth and rock on the right. About midway I see a sheep pen.
It was made of crooked trees and
branches serving as the bars of the pen.
At a makeshift gate I spot a
gatekeeper. In the sheep pen I could see lots of sheep and goats - some black
and some white.
I said to myself, “Ah, I’m seeing three or four parables
of Jesus here - still relevant - going on almost 2000 years now.
Let me voice a few practical applications from this metaphor of the gatekeeper.
Sometimes I’m a gatekeeper. There are people I don’t
allow into my life.
We hear that in today’s first reading from the Acts of
the Apostles 11:1-18. Peter and some of the disciples thought some people
should not enter into the temple. There are people you should not be eating
with. They were pagans. They were profane.
Then Peter has a dream. He sees a large sheet come down
from heaven. On that sheet he sees all kinds of animals - clean and unclean - and basically we hear from this dream and
from Peter that nothing God makes is unclean.
Sometimes I inwardly voice a complaint - a harsh judgment about someone who is in
this sheep pen called church. What is
she doing in this church? Do you see him? He’s wearing summer beach shorts in
church? Horrible! Or the cleavage? Or he or she are living with so and so? He,
he’s going to communion. How dare he do that?
He’s a Democrat and therefore he’s for abortion. When I was working in a
retreat house in Tobyhanna Pa. a group of men retreatants went to the priest in
charge and said, “How could you allow so and so to make a retreat here? He’s
Mafia. And George said, “Wouldn’t you
want him in church? Another group of guys complained about a guy who was making
a retreat every year and these guys said this guy came on retreat to be seen
and to get votes. And this guy, Frank, told me privately that he came this
weekend because on this particular
weekend nobody from his county would be there this weekend. “I just want
to make a retreat.”
Another comment would be: I’m grateful Jesus allows me to
be in communion with him - and that the chose me - I’m a lost sheep.
Isn’t the Catholic Church fabulous. We are Catholic -
which means - everyone - KATA - Greek word for with and Holos - meaning the
whole world. Yes - look around who’s at
Mass - the whole world. So I gotta learn how to rub shoulders with those around
me and not be scared to talk, bah, baa, bal with everyone in the pen.
The title of my homily - better reflection - for this 4th
Sunday after Easter B, is, “Sometimes Sheep, Sometimes Shepherd.”
Sometimes I feel like a sheep - just one of the flock -
just one of the crowd - a nobody in the
midst of a nameless flock.
Ever feel that way?
Sometimes I get lost on purpose - or do something dumb - so
as to get some recognition in life - to get a good hug - to be held and told I
worth while - or even to get yelled at. Doing that - at least I’m noticed and
get some attention - even if this way is negative.
Sometimes I feel like a shepherd. All the responsibilities are up to me. Just when all is
settled down after a long day on the road - or in the field - in the sun and dust and the dirt - just when
I’m ready to go to sleep for the night - I discover - when I do the pen count -
one sheep is missing. I mutter a sad “Uh
oh” or a mad “Oh no!”
The pen count is 99 - not 100.
One sheep is lost. One sheep is missing.
I think this is what it must be like for parents when
their kids are out and they don’t know where they are. Lots of “uh oh’s” - lots
of possible “Oh no’s!” - lots of “I wonder
This is what it must be like when a wife or a husband is
wondering where the other is in the night.
Then as shepherd I start shouting out in the dark -
yelling into the dark, “Where are you?
Where are you?”
Then when I find my lost sheep, I see the blood and cuts from hillside brambles - along with dry blood - on my lost sheep' light brown wool.
Then when I get back home to the pen, I can hear the whining tones
of “Baa, baa, baa" - from the 99 who didn't mess up.”
The Good Shepherd has seen this same thing happen in his
own family when a brother or a sister is lost - and everyone is upset till the
lost sheep is found He thinks every
family - every flock - must go through these moments of tension. “Oh no, not
again.” We have a niece who dropped out of the family - and we all have felt the pain that comes to a lost family.
If they ever return, the Good Shepherd can see how sheepish a lost sheep can
Then there is the hired hand syndrome. People who rent or borrow - can be guilty of this one. A shepherd has a problem. Sometimes something comes up. There is a death, a funeral, or a wedding comes up. This means he has to come up with a hired hand.
The sheep don’t recognize his voice. He’s just not the
same as their shepherd. Things are not as personal.
Ever notice how nervous sheep are with strangers?
Okay, you've never been hired to be a shepherd. Well, you might be familiar with the following situation. You're walking along and you see a little kid standing there or in their
carriage. You're a stranger. You stop to say, "Hi." You wave to this little kid. The kid immediately turns to their parents eye or runs to their parents reach for their parents arm or leg for support.
They immediately try to connect with their parent. They immediately nudge their
way to someone they know much more than a stranger.
Ever notice this? Did this ever happen to you?
Ever notice how some babysitters are very personal. The kid or kids they are
waiting for after school to babysit can’t wait to see their face. This babysitter is so nice that they love it when their parents are going to a wedding - for a weekend. This babysitter plays with them. This babysitter loves her job. She's doing it for money - but she also loves kids. So kids - like sheep - know whether the hired babysitter or shepherd of substitute parent really cares about them. Little kids and babies know whether granny or grandpa is happy to be with them - or whether they are being used by their parents and resentment is rampant. They feel stuck with the kids AGAIN. Unconsciously they know motives about teachers, coaches, doctors, nurses, clergy, whoever is caring for them at the moment. How do we see ourselves and how to we treat those in our care? Good shepherd or hired hand? Cute sheep or dumb animal? Let's add: sheep or wolf? Sheep or goat? So this comes down to how we see life - what our attitudes are - who we are - how we think? Sometimes a shepherd is all heart - knowing he's about to sell 100 sheep to a butcher to sell in the marketplace. Sometimes a shepherd is a philosopher - seeing all of life in his life. Sacrifice is front and center for the life of a sheep and shepherd. These sheep are here to give wool and these sheep are going to sheared - and nights can be cold in the fields without their wool coats. These sheep are going to give not only the skin off their backs - but their bodies to feed a family. Sometimes a shepherd is a preacher - and a prophet - knowing the bible texts - about who the good shepherds are - and who the selfish and non-caring are. The title of my homily is, "Sometimes Sheep, Sometimes Shepherds." Hopefully never wolf or hired hand. Hopefully cornerstone or sometimes one of the stones that build up the home - but that's another metaphor and another sermon - for another day. Amen.