You are my blessing today. It was nice having you.
13th Sunday A 7/2/17 2Kings4;Rom6;Mt10:37-42HF 5;SOS:7 JMayzikSJ 1
It was a beautiful day. 78 degrees, no humidity, the wind blowing ever so gently, you could feel it playing tag around your body, the hairs on your arms and legs moving this way and then that, and the summer sun bathing everything in warm, clear light. Everyone was out, it was one of those days when people would tell you to go outside, ‘its too nice to be working inside’. People were sitting on benches, walking leisurely with friends, laying on any small grassy areas to read a book, take in the sun, or watch the people going by. I was having a ball, it was my day off, I was in lower Manhattan, it was just a perfect day to be in the city.
I was so taken up with it all, watching all the world around me as I walked the streets, that I didn’t notice the sky suddenly darkening, the air growing a little colder, the world a little less bright. And I was crossing the street, and suddenly the whole sky fell in, big single drops at first, and then multiples, and I was stuck all alone on a traffic island, with no shelter in sight. It was clear that I was about to take an unwanted shower, and then out of nowhere, I had company on the island.
From behind me, a huge man—tall and wide---appeared, with an umbrella. He was wearing a full-deal Batman costume, complete with the half-face mask. It was New York, so I wasn’t shocked so much by the costume as I was when he offered to shelter me beneath the umbrella as well. Was he a weirdo? A little reluctantly I moved over and under, thanking him, but as I mentioned, he was a big man—very wide—and even though it was a big umbrella, I had to get pretty close to stay out of the downpour all around us. He kept insisting, urging me to come in closer, and our personal space was pretty much tapped out, we were belly to belly, and even with that, water was dripping down both our backs.
Who gets that physically close with anyone, even friends or family, much less with a Batman stranger in New York City?
The rain came down so hard it was making a really loud beating noise on the umbrella, and we stood there, just the two of us, castaways on a traffic island. He had a biiiiggg belly, and I could feel him breathing in and out, and he yelled something I didn’t hear and then he laughed, and then I could feel his belly really move and so I thought I should at least fake a laugh.
It lasted maybe two minutes, and for most of it, we just stood wordless amidst the roar and the rain. I wanted to make a Batman joke, but couldn’t think of anything clever enough, and if there was something off about the guy, I didn’t want to give him an excuse to take me out. And then the rain started to subside, big drops became little drops, and the sounds of the world re-emerged—cars honking, birds singing, someone shouting from afar.
“Guess it’s over”, he said. We looked at each other squarely for the first time as I exited from under the umbrella. “Thanks for the shelter in the storm,” I said. “No problem. It was nice having you,” he responded. And we smiled at one another, nodded, and turned to go our separate ways.
The sun came out a few minutes later, and the world looked even better than before: washed down, refreshed, brighter and more colorful. I was at the Battery, and the grass looked so green, the trees glistening with water making ready to evaporate into thin air.
I kept thinking about my Batman friend. “It was nice having you,” he said. A little bit of hospitality on a traffic island in Manhattan goes a long way to making you feel like the world, is indeed, ultimately redeemable. I wondered what, if anything, the two of us shared outside the shelter of that umbrella. Perhaps he was a Muslim, or a Jew, maybe he was a Red Sox fan, or a Republican, or a communist. It didn’t matter at that moment. What mattered was that we were trying to stay out of the storm, and this stranger gave me shelter.
Hospitality was an essential virtue in biblical times. In the days before Holiday Inn, travelers were often dependent on the hospitality of strangers not only for comfortbut also for safety at night. When Elisha the prophet needs shelter for the night, a woman offers him a place to stay, and the holy man makes a miracle happen in gratitude…she gets a son when it looked like that was an impossibility. Jesus sends his friends out as apostles to do good things as He did—cure the sick, raise the dead, drive out demons---and He warns them that it may be rough. To truly follow Him, they will have to leave the comforts of their family and friends, and rely on the hospitality of strangers…and it may not always be offered. But when a stranger in need arrives upon their own doorstep or traffic island, the disciple must welcome him even he is not of the same tribe or same faith or living under the same flag.
Years ago as a young Jesuit I went on a walking pilgrimage in upstate New York. The object of the pilgrimage was to rely on the goodness of God through the kindness and generosity of strangers. I walked alone for seven days, without food or shelter, and the rule was that I could not to explain to anyone what I was doing. I had to go up to houses or restaurants or stores and ask for food and drink. And at night, I had to ask for permission to sleep on someone’s property or porch. It was quite an experience, and I had some unsettling moments.
Like the night I had a gun drawn on me by a guy who thought I was trespassing on his property after his wife had allowed me to sleep on a chaise lounge in the back yard. That was interesting.
And there were a few times when I got pretty hungry, having been refused food, even at the rectory of a Catholic Church. But there was amazing generosity and love by strangers that I met along the way, and I certainly came nowhere near to starving and slept in a good many comfortable places.
One woman left me speechless. I had stopped for food, and she made me a delicious turkey sandwich. She asked few questions, but was so kindly and caring in her every gesture. When I got ready to leave, she came over to me, took my hand, and kissed it. “You are my blessing today,” she said. “And may God bless you.”
That kiss stayed with me all these years. I thought about it—and her---on the traffic island in Manhattan. “You are my blessing today… it was nice having you,” she said.
On bright, sunny crystal clear days when the weather is warm and the breezes caress your skin, it is easy to believe in the goodness and the love of God. It is easy to smile at perfect strangers, even in Manhattan. But when the storm comes up, and the rain falls in buckets, God still walks the earth seeking shelter for his love.
We are, each of us, blessings to one another.
Think about this family, all of us in this place. I don’t know how many of you know one another, but it doesn’t matter. We need to see that we are all standing together on an island, and we have an umbrella to share as the storms rage around us. That’s the meaning of church in the first place. Here we find God in one another, and here we give God to one another. Hospitality. And what God gives us here, we need to share with others out on that island. Spread the blessings around!
It is particularly important on this holiday that we remember that our nation was founded upon that premise. When the Statue of Liberty was dedicated in 1886, Emma Lazarus, daughter of Jewish and German immigrants, wrote a poem to raise money for the statue’s construction costs. It was called the New Colossus, and it forever marked the Lady in the Harbor as a welcoming mother, a symbol of hope to the outcasts and downtrodden of the world. Here are her words that are enshrined on the statue in the harbor:
“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, with conquering limbs astride from land to land; here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand a mighty woman with a torch, whose flame is the imprisoned lightning, and her name MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command the air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. Give me your tired, your poor, the huddled masses yearning to be free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
“You are my blessing today, “God says to us. “It was nice having you.”
"Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it… and receive a righteous reward."
You are my blessing today. All of you.
This is my favorite place, and I wanted you to see it.
12th Sunday A 6/25/17 Jer20;Rom5;Mt 10:26-33 SOS 7pm. Jmayzik SJ
There is something about the first days of Summer when the light dawns so early and retires so late: you have a sense, especially if you are a child, that all the darkness has been conquered and there is only endless light.
In the first days of Summer all the rules are relaxed, the responsibilities lightened–you wear clothing that is comfortable, you eat food with your fingers, you let the water soothe your bones and the sun warm your skin without guilt. You can be more honest in the summer, let everything go hang. You take a vacation from where you are and live in the place you really believe in, where you’re hope is and your dreams, where you can imagine that anything is possible, most especially love.
On the first day of summer many years ago I was in Vermont. The sun was warm, the sky was blue. Carried in the gentle breeze across rolling meadows of an emerald valley, came the sounds of dogs barking and horses whinnying. School was out in Vermont, and I was babysitting my three nieces while their parents were away.
“Come with me,” she insisted, holding my hand,” I have something I want to show you”.
I looked at her for a moment, my niece Amanda, and thought: my, she’s growing up. There was a young woman waiting to emerge from that little girl’s body, baby fat evaporating into slender curves, high cheekbones, narrow face. But innocence was still there in her eyes, and bright wonder, and what was perhaps true belief. A child’s eyes undimmed by disappointment.
”Come on,” she said excitedly, eager for me to see something she believed in.
She led me down the hilly path that was overgrown with lush vines, shooting weeds, purple flocs, and wild red roses of a young, moist Vermont summer. Down we went, nearer and nearer to the sound of rushing, gurgling water.
Suddenly, from behind, the sound of leaves slapping, twigs snapping, and like a shot out of nowhere the dog bounded clumsily into our safari, nearly knocking us both over on the uneven ground. ”Oreo!”, cried Amanda, half in delight, half scolding, which of course, the dog completely ignored.
The sun sparkled on the brook’s moving waters, patches of light piercing the canopy of leaves hanging from branches over the baby river. With birds singing overhead, we walked along the bank over falling tree trunks, pushing aside green fences of vines. We reached a significant landmark, a series of smooth gray rocks in the water, a path from shore to shore. Amanda gave me careful instructions on how to negotiate the stepping stones, each one, and then we were there.
”This is our fort,” she said, looking for my approval. “Wow,” I said, and we began our tour.
It was mostly nature’s work: a fort of bare earth, with walls and ceiling composed of dense leaves from surrounding trees. On the ground--lining the sides of the “room”--were many small pieces of pottery and glass. They had been retrieved from the brook, Amanda informed me, her declaration proved upon closer look by their rounded edges and worn surfaces. How many years of flowing water had worn them smooth? At various spots in the room, carefully placed, were old bottles filled with wild flowers – buttercups, daisies, flocs. Other imported items composed the interior design: sitting stones, cups for drinking, a bed of straw for Oreo, and a small picture of mama, Amanda’s grandmother, my mother. When I saw that there, I got a lump in my throat.
”This is my favorite place, this is where we live in the summer,” Amanda said, “and I wanted you to see it.”
I could see that she was a little worried about my reaction: worried that I might not appreciate the place where she lived, that I might not accept it for what it meant to her. So I thanked her profusely for showing it to me, and complimented her on the interior decorating, and she beamed at my approval.
The wind came up and blew gently through the fort, making the leaves above flutter. ”It’s like they’re whispering to us,” she said, and we listened to the leaves whisper to us.
It was a summer place alright, and it was clear that this was where she lived, the place where she could believe and conceive her dreams. There was something holy about it, something holy about that fort. The place where you’re truly living out your deepest dreams and greatest love is always a holy place.
Which brings me to today’s message, the message to all of us at the beginning of summer, when days are long, and the sun is strong, when we go on vacation. In the Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples and friends to go out into the surrounding countryside and tell everyone they met about the holy summer place where they live, and where they have found their deepest dreams and greatest love fulfilled: in Him.
“What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.” He assured them that even if what they shared was not appreciated, if the place where they live was rejected, they need not fear anything. ”Do not fear… everyone who knowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven.”
So too with us. In the summer, probably more than any other time, we go on vacation and live in our favorite places, and in the best of them, God is there too. He is whispering to us especially then: under the fluttering green leaves of a brookside fort; in the crashing salty surf of the shore; in the backyard with the sweet scent of sausage on the grill; on the porch in the twilight, rocking gently beside the love of your life; at a concert rocking wildly to the rhythm of the night.
We go on vacation in the summertime, and God is especially with us then and there, and maybe it’s the best time to share with someone else the whispering in the place where you live. Take someone down to the brook and the fort, the holy place of your life, and fear not how they will react, because you are always surrounded by His love. Please God, please God, don’t be afraid to speak of the God who made the summer days long and warm and leisurely and beautiful, who made the brook and the flocs and the meadows and the trees, who made little girls and clumsy dogs, who made us all, who made you.
Praise Him, praise God. Amen
How do we love Thee? Let us count the ways.
Sandra Gargaloni Mass of Resurrection June 24, 2017Holy Family Church
Almost every day for several years, an answering machine would turn on at 2003 Clove Road. The words that came from the device’s speaker would address an empty house--its occupant on her daily whirlwind of a day, hopping across the Island from school to church to school to school to church. It was Bernie Kelly’s 86 year-old voice that would rebound from the living room to the kitchen to the music room to the bedroom, reciting the words of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnet #43 (abridged) :
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
my soul can reach…
I love thee freely.
I love thee purely.
I love thee with the breath,
smiles, tears, of all my life;
and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
Some years ago when Pedro Arrupe was the leader of the world-wide Jesuit order, he wrote about love, and life. “What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything,” he said. “It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with gratitude and joy. If you fall in love, and stay in love,” he said, “it will decide everything.”
Bernie was one of the strays who wandered into Sandy’s life in his twilight years, and who was embraced and adopted by her. A stray, like all of us today in this church, really. We were all picked up and assumed into the orbit of this amazingly wonderful woman who had a heart big enough for everyone, and for every beautiful thing that God created.
Sandy, Sandra, Miss Sandy, Miss Gargaloni, and for me SDH (Sandra Dear Heart)—whomever she was to you---she was in love with so much.
She loved music, of course, perhaps more than anything else in her life. Her father Armando loved to sing opera to her when she was a child, and undoubtedly that’s where her love of music was born. He sent her to Anthony Ettore’s School of Music where she was a quick study. When she was 12 she was on the stage of Carnegie Hall playing the most challenging of pieces, and her skill and talent gave birth to a career that spanned from nightclubs to catering halls to classrooms and to church sanctuaries. Her love for music and life was contagious and along the way she attracted a lot of fans, strays like us, and she made all of them part of her family.
My first experience with her love of music was at St Rita’s. I was introduced to Sandy by my friend Father Michael Sepp, who told me that she was a fantastic musician who provided music for the Masses at the church, and that she played the accordion.
“The accordion,” I said skeptically, “for Mass?”. “You won’t believe it,” he said. “She’s a little crazy,” he said, “But she’s a genius, she can play anything.”
And I promptly asked her if she could play “True Colors” by Cyndi Lauper for my next Sunday Mass.
“True Colors”, she asked skeptically, “for Mass? What are you, crazy?”
And then she picked up her accordion and played the song for me perfectly, and of course she played it--probably reluctantly--at my crazy Mass. It was the beginning of a long lesson in music that I received from her even until the day before she died. She was a genius at playing and writing music, at teaching it, and at sharing its beauty with all of us at Masses, graduations, parties, confirmations and communions, and her beloved Lessons and Carols.
She loved her family. Especially her parents Evelyn and Armando, and of course Teddy and Lydia, and dear Doris and Spiro and his excellent cooking. She loved her nieces and nephews—Lori, Ralph, Michael, and her aunts and uncles and all her cousins—Mark, Brian and Jay. For almost the past 20 years, she devoted many hours at the end of every day no matter how tired she was to be with Doris and to ease the burden upon Spiro.
She loved her friends. And there were so many of them—young and old, long term and newly minted. She remembered their birthdays, invited them to her parties, gave them her time and her love and her loyalty when they were in need. Take a look around this room. We are a small sample of the strays who became lifelong friends.
She loved children. She never had any of her own, but she was mother and big sister and crazy Aunt to so many of them. They loved her because she was a big kid herself and found ways to 'play' with them that made each one of them feel special. And she loved teaching them and playing for them. If you spent a few hours with her in public on Staten Island, you would inevitably witness people coming up to her to say hello and to tell her how much they loved learning music with her, singing with her. She taught hundreds of them each year--thousands over the years--- so of course she didn’t remember too many of their names.
She loved young adults. There are plenty of people sitting in this place right now who are still grateful for the respect she showed them, the attention she paid to them, the fun she offered to them on trips to the beach or Great Adventure or other exciting destinations.
She loved elderly people, and those who were sick or disabled and anyone who felt rejected, outcast, abandoned, prodigal. How many times did she pack up that big accordion into her car to bring a music festival or sing-a-long to a nursing home or to a retirement or anniversary party? How many times did she call or visit someone who was alone or suffering some misfortune?
She loved priests. And there were so many in her life. Those who have passed on: Monsignor Sullivan and Michael Sepp. And others with whom she developed deep and long friendships: Ed Weber, Austin Titus, Jack Reardon, and so many others, all here included. She took care of them, defended them, served them and loved them despite their failings and maybe especially because of their human frailty.
She loved her ‘group’, her ‘gang’---the people who played with her, sang with her, made beautiful music together with her every week and on every special holiday. They were her homies, and as much as she drove them hard, she relied on them to make something beautiful and holy for the Lord. She was so proud of them. And she asked that they specifically celebrate this Mass for her today.
She loved dogs—especially Bismark, and Harry, and Murphy. They brought her such joy, and so many tears when God took them home. But she also loved stray cats, birds of the air, fish of the sea, squirrels, deer, mice, maybe even rats. She even loved bugs. Well, some. After I met her I was never able to willingly kill even the most annoying of God's bugs. She worried about them all, and couldn’t bear to see any harm come to them.
She loved the forest and the ocean and the mountains and the flowery meadows, and the blue blue sky. And her tomatoes. She loved a delicious tomato sandwich from her own garden’s bounty.
She loved Staten Island. Of course she did, she was a native, and proud of it. North shore proud.
She loved being Italian, but not too Italian, never gavone.
She loved being loyal. She loved being generous with her time, her money, her music, with her love. She loved being in charge, being the driver of the car, player number one. She loved being independent.
Never the center of attention, never one to seek praise or adulation, she loved being a servant, even if at times it was as a suffering one. It was never about Sandy, always about someone else.
She loved the simple things, the small pleasures. Rice pudding and mac and cheese. A sofa that had three pillows. A latte with cinnamon. Doing the crossword with Doris. Throwing a ball endlessly for Murphy.
And above all she loved the God who created this beautiful earth and all its creatures, and who accepted her for all her faults and sinfulness. Hers was a very real, deep and practical faith. She believed that God was everywhere to be found, in all things and all places. She knew her life was in God’s hands at every moment. “Do not worry about your life, or what you will eat, or about your body, or what you will wear…consider the birds of the air, the wild flowers that grow…Seek his kingdom and these things will be given to you as well.” She was the very example of Jesus’ advice.
What and who she loved did indeed get her out of bed in the morning, determined what she did with her evenings and her weekends. What and who she loved often broke her heart, but it also amazed her with gratitude and joy. She fell in love a lot, especially with all of us. It decided everything about her wonderful life.
Someone here reminded me that our Sandy, Sandra, Miss Sandy, Miss Gargaloni was born on the shortest and darkest day of the year and immediately brightened the world. No wonder she left it on the longest and lightest day. Her life made the whole world more luminous.
She did not want us to be sad today. She wanted us to celebrate the Love that brought her into the world, that sustained her in so many ways over her wonderful life, and that brought her home again finally on Wednesday. She was grateful and joyful. I will never forget one Easter Eve after the Easter Vigil at St Rita’s. I followed her to her back to her house so that I could get some music from her for Easter Mass in the morning. Despite her exhaustion and the lateness of the hour, she practiced the song with me with her accordion, and we got so into it that we marched from room to room singing and playing and banging on anything within reach. He came down that we may have he came down that we may have life, he came down that we have life, Alleluia, Forevermore. He came down that we may have he came down that we may have life, he came down that we have life, Alleluia, Forevermore.
It was the most fun and honest expression of joy I have ever experienced.
She is undoubtedly marching into some heavenly setting right now, the music sweeter than she’s ever made, joining the communion of saints and the fullness of a love that she only lived partially with us.
How do we love thee? Let us count the ways.
We love thee to the depth and breadth and height
our souls can reach…
We love thee freely.
We love thee purely.
We love thee with the breath,
smiles, tears, of all our life;
and, if God choose,
we shall but love thee better after death.
Here is a song that our Sandy asked us to share at this Mass. It is a statement of her faith, and it is undoubtedly the prayer that she is playing for her Lord as she ascends into His arms.
For the beauty of the earth
For the beauty of the skies
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies
Over and around us lies
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our joyful hymn of praise
For the beauty of the hour
Of the day and of the night
Hill and vale and tree and flower
Sun and moon and stars of light
Sun and moon and stars of light
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our joyful hymn of praise
For the joy of human love
Brother, sister, parent, child
Friends on earth and friends above
For all gentle thoughts and mild
For all gentle thoughts and mild
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our joyful hymn of praise
For each perfect gift of thine
To our race so freely given
Graces human and divine
Flow'rs of earth and buds of heav'n
Flow'rs of earth and buds of heav'n
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our joyful hymn, our joyful hymn of praise
This our joyful hymn of praise
Corpus Christi6/18/17 Dt8, 1Cor10,Jn6:51-58 HF 5pm; SOS 7pm J Mayzik SJ
Some weeks ago up in Connecticut, I was lazily biking down a quiet neighborhood street around dinnertime, passing a house with lots of cars in front of it, and suddenly I was engulfed in this overwhelming aroma of barbecue. Burning charcoal, sweet fat, savory essence of beef, a hint of spices--in the sausage, perhaps--pungent bouquet of marinade. My eyes got watery, my nose began to run, my stomach began to growl--oh, the joy of this gastronomic perfume in the air! I circled around on my bike a few times in front of the house just to sniff it in a little longer, and spied into the back yard where I saw a group of family and maybe friends assembled around tables, talking and laughing and eating and drinking with one another. Off to the side of the patio was the source of the pleasure, the barbecue itself. It looked like one of those really fancy Weber grills with lots of accessories, and beside it was the chef, a man with a spatula in one hand and a beer in the other. He was undoubtedly the man of the house and the father of some of those kids who were running around with bazooka squirt guns. I was sort of wishing I knew someone there, maybe I'd get an invitation, but I didn't, so I decided I should head home and satisfy my aroused hunger with dinner back at the Jesuit community.
Pedaling back, I had barbecue on my mind. Did you ever notice how there's this sudden role reversal with cooking that occurs when it comes time for barbecue? All during the year, it’s the wife who's usually stuck cooking the evening meals--even if she's working--if not lunch and breakfast meals as well. But when the weather gets warm and the days get longer, it's the man of the house who is automatically expected to take up spatula and apron in front of the barbecue. It makes no matter that these husbands and fathers know nothing about the subtleties of the culinary arts, no matter that they wouldn't be able to begin to explain the difference between braising and parboiling, between a porterhouse and a sirloin, a capon and a squab. Actually total ignorance in cooking seems to be mandatory for men assigned to the barbecue pit. And so at any barbecue you go to, the husband is standing around the hot grill with other men beside him, all with beers in hand. And they're looking at the steaks and the chicken and the sausage, pretending like they all know what they're doing, suggesting maybe that the leg on that side should be turned over, guessing that the London Broil is still raw inside, maybe splashing some marinade on the sausage and making the flames shoot up three or four feet into the air. Sometimes half in the bag, the men lie to one another and to the chef about what a good job he’s doing. That’s the way it always was at our house, my father at the helm. Other than on Sunday mornings when he would cook up eggs and fried bologna, he would always be assigned to the grill when my mother decided we’d do barbeque for dinner.
And when everybody would sit down to eat, they would all compliment him even if the hamburgers were burned to a crisp and were dry as the Sahara. “Perfect job, Joe,” they’d say, even as the ketchup bottle made the rounds in an attempt to add some moisture. Everyone at our house had the lovely experience of eating the way our ancestors ate 10,000 years ago--- the head of the clan and his family around a piece of meat he went out and killed with a club and then cooked over a raging fire.
But regardless of the gastronomic expertise—or lack thereof---as a kid I always loved the barbeques we had at our house. There was something wonderful about all of us eating together under the umbrella at the patio table. Even if the hot dogs were charcoaled logs and the burgers like hockey pugs, if the corn on the cob wasn’t that sweet, or the potato salad had a bit too much mayonnaise, we told stories, we sang songs, we laughed and applauded one another amidst the fragrant incense of sizzling meat and the flickering flames of the citronella candles. It didn’t matter if we were related by blood, we were all family around the meal my father made for us.
All of which brings me to the meal we celebrate today, the feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ.
In 1209 a French nun named Julianna of Liege looked up at the moon and saw what she believed was a sign from God: there was dark spot on the moon and she interpreted that to mean that God wanted the Church to have a special day on which we would celebrate the gift of the Eucharist.
I guess that the moon reminded her of a host like receive at the altar at Mass, which to be honest is as tasty as my father’s hamburger pucks. It didn’t start out that way. In the early days of the Church, it was more of a meal with real bread and real wine made by the people who came together for Eucharist. They gathered at one another’s homes, a different one each week, and the meal was a way of remembering and re-presenting the host of the most wonderful meals that they had, with Jesus. It was a meal that would satisfy them physically and spiritually. And the food and the wine that was not consumed at the Eucharist would be delivered to other families who couldn’t make it, spreading the good times and the good spirit into the wider community.
But as the Church grew large and older and more ritualized, the meal became less recognizable as such—tasteless ‘spiritual’ wafers, which were easier to produce and handle for large crowds-- and sadly during the time of Julianna it was no longer even offered to the ordinary people of the Church like you (!). Only the holy priests like me (!) were allowed to receive, and when they did, it was out of sight of the people, behind beautiful decorative screens. (By the way: that’s the origin of the bells we ring during the consecration, when I hold up the bread and the wine and say “This is my body; this is my blood”. The bells were meant to let everyone know that this very important moment was happening behind the screen which prevented them from seeing or hearing much of anything.) The family meal had become too ‘spiritual’ for ordinary people to participate. It was a bit like having the kids go the to their rooms without dinner while the adults enjoyed the real party to themselves.
Behind this elaborate screen is the priest alone with the Eucharist.
Thankfully the Church found its way back, just over 50 years ago in the reforms of Vatican II. We were invited to participate much more fully than in the past—the altar turned around, the prayers in our native tongue, even in many places the offering of the Precious Blood to everyone. We still have the tasteless wafers, but it is closer to what it was meant to be. And most importantly, we can experience a real presence of Jesus as our whole family gathers together around the dinner table.
I was in Spain this past week at the wedding of one of my former students, who found his true love in a young Spanish woman named Ana, who is beautiful within and without. Since this was an international union, the wedding was partly in English and partly in Spanish. I chose to speak only in English, having learned my lesson from a disastrous attempt at celebrating Mass Spanish in Mexico some years ago. French was my language in high school and college, but I thought, how hard could it be to read the Spanish words phonetically from the Mass book? You should have seen the faces of the elderly women there as I mangled the Spanish to such an extent that they were totally confused about Mass prayers that they thought they knew by heart. The only thing that saved me was the moment when we shared the meal itself, this time with real bread made by the women of the town, real wine made by the men to whom they were married. What saved us was the reality of the Presence that we all felt in the house where we celebrated that Mass. And we knew that what we were receiving at that moment was more important than any of the mangled words of a language I did not speak. A real presence of Love that we knew felt our joy and our pain.
This is a feast which seems a little redundant. Don't we really celebrate it every Sunday, in fact every single day of the year when we have Mass, this gift of the Body and Blood of Jesus? But you know, maybe it's a good thing to have the feast: there are times when we get so used to the routine and the rhythm of Mass--it can even get boring-- there are times that we forget what an incredible thing that happens here at this table. This is really a miracle in our midst--Jesus comes to be with us in the way that gets to everyone's heart: through our stomachs. Just like at the Last Supper, just like at the meal with the five thousand, Jesus gathers us together where he is the meal: his life, his spirit is put on a platter and served up to us, and we sit down and eat it, the whole family. Like barbecue time with our fathers, it hits the spot. In fact, it becomes a part of us, a part of our bloodstream, and when we get up from the table we are the walking body of Christ, for make no mistake about it, we are what we eat.
Sometimes I wish we had a huge table going right down the center of this church, so that we could all sit around it like Jesus did with his disciples.
This is a meal for family, just like a barbecue but even better, and the more the merrier. Sadder than a barbecue for one, is a communion alone: this holy meal was meant to be shared by everyone, with God the Father as the chef and Jesus as the meal. And the miracle always happens: when we gather together around the table and remember Him, he comes, it's not just due to the magic fingers of the priest--all of us make him real in the bread and the wine and he truly comes to us in his body and blood. This is real food, and real Jesus, and I guarantee you that if you sit up and eat, it will make you strong and healthy and a walking Temple of love to everyone you meet. Remember that when you cradle him in your hands at communion time, when you taste him on your tongue. Oh, what a meal, what a miracle.
And maybe especially today, as we approach the altar for our serving of real Presence, we should remember our fathers---with gratitude for all the meals both physical and spiritual that they have provided for us. May God the Father, Jesus his Son, and the great product of their love—the Holy Spirit---bring them blessings on this day and every barbeque and bologna day when they serve us.
Wǒ bù huì shuō zhōngwén. I don’t speak Chinese.
Pentecost A 6/4/17 Acts2,1Cor12,Jn20:19-23 HF 9:15 & 10:45; SOS 1:15pm J Mayzik SJ
Wǒ bù huì shuō zhōngwén (我不会说中文). Wǒ bù huì shuō zhōngwén. Wǒ bù huì shuō zhōngwén. I don’t speak Chinese. I was practicing that phrase, trying to memorize it as I began walking along streets that were filled with hundreds and hundreds of Chinese people on motor scooters in the first city I was visiting in that country.
It was hard to hear myself over the unending tooting of horns. When I’m walking in Manhattan, I often get annoyed at the horn-blowing taxis and trucks, but it is NOTHING compared to China. In China each scooter driver uses his or her horn about every 10 seconds, no exaggeration. When I came to my first intersection I was afraid to cross it. They paid no attention to the traffic lights, and you were just supposed to bravely walk across, eyes straight ahead, as they drove around you like a swarm of bees determined to get back to the hive NOW. A swarm of bees with endless and loud honking. Their communication seemed so aggressive and threatening. Get out of my way, I’m coming, watch out, don’t even….they seemed to be announcing.
Wǒ bù huì shuō zhōngwén.
I kept saying it over and over again, the phrase I had memorized to explain my inability to speak their language, standard Mandarin. In retrospect, it was a dumb idea to memorize that phrase. It was perfectly obvious that I didn’t speak the language. I should have memorized something else more useful for my visit, like: “Have you seen my passport?”. Because I lost my passport, in China.
My advice to you: don’t lose your passport in China.
It took me a week and visits to five police stations, two immigration offices and the American Consulate in another city, and except for the consulate, I struggled to communicate with the police and immigration officials who didn’t seem all that interested in helping me. To be honest, the experience kind of soured me. I didn’t like China much, and I found the Chinese to be rude and uncaring. It was easy to generalize, to think of words in my own language that were harsh, unkind and uncharitable to the people of this nation who also seemed to be so aggressive on the world stage.
Armed with a new passport and visa, I was finally able to travel within China, and the language barrier was a challenge. Very few people seemed to know English. When I got to Bejiing, a huge city of 24 million people, I took the subway from the airport, and when I got off I relied on the GPS on my phone to find the hotel that I had booked online. The scooters were everywhere there too, horns incessantly honking, and I was dodging them as I followed the map on my phone. It took me a while before I realized that the GPS was confused. It was sending me in virtual circles or down dead-end streets. Not matter which way I went, I couldn’t find the hotel. I stopped a bunch of times and tried to get someone to help me, Wǒ bù huì shuō zhōngwén, but no one wanted to talk to me. They seemed to purposely ignore me.
Exhausted after about 2 hours of walking with a pretty heavy bag, and assaulted with those darned scooters and their horns, I felt really alone. I sat down on some steps and my eyes started to fill up. I must have looked miserable. An elderly woman holding a bag of vegetables was walking by and she stopped for a moment, looked over at me and then approached. She had a very wrinkled, kind face. She smiled at me, and started speaking to me in Chinese. Wǒ bù huì shuō zhōngwén, I said, looking up at her. She put her hand on my shoulder, tapping it gently like she wanted me to know that she understood how I felt. Then she gestured to me to get up and follow her, and when I hesitated, she was insistent in her tone and her gestures.
We walked a block or two together, and she brought me to a street-level office. She opened the door and called to a young man who was behind a desk. He came out, she spoke to him, pointing at me, and I could tell she was urging him to take care of me. Within a few minutes there were five others out on the sidewalk with us, and when I showed them the GPS and the hotel name, they became this… task force. They had a lively discussion, went to work trying to find the location on their own phones, and one guy retrieved a city map from inside the office. They seemed to identify the correct location for the hotel, and without warning a scooter appeared. A young man gestured to climb on behind him, and he grabbed my bag and put it in between his knees. The elderly woman smiled and waved at me, and the rest of the task force laughed and bowed in my direction. We were off.
It was weirdly intimate as I held onto a stranger’s waist, and it struck me that I was suddenly one of them navigating through and within this sea of honking scooters. It was an entirely different perspective, and I began to ‘get’ their use of the horns. There was no animosity or aggressiveness about it, as I had assumed. In fact it felt more protective and considerate, more like “please watch out”, “ I don’t want to hit you”, “take care” rather than “get out of my way, you moron” which I have actually heard shouted along with the horn blast in Manhattan.
When we got to the hotel, the driver helped me inside with my bag. He stayed a bit to make sure I was OK, and then he bowed slightly to me, smiling, and left.
Up in my hotel room, looking down at the street teaming with scooters and people rushing in all directions, I thought about my ‘rescue’ and how we had communicated on an entirely different level. And I began to think maybe I was wrong about the people and the nation I was judging so harshly.
I was reading that there are about 6000 languages in the world today, and only about half of them are predicted to survive to the end of the 21st century. Technology is enabling a kind of linguistic and cultural homogenization around the world and if you do any traveling you certainly are aware how much English is a part of that trend. Some people think that such homogenization or blending or intermixing will mean a loss for the culture of our individual nations, and they think we should do everything we can to preserve our languages which are embedded with our heritage, our truths, and our perspective on life.
World language map
On the other hand the differences enshrined in the languages that distinguish us have a long history of sparking bloodshed. Since the fall of the Tower of Babel, humans have been at one another's throats over ethnic, cultural, national, religious and other differences that our languages represent. Maybe we would have more peace in the world or greater human understanding if everyone spoke the same tongue.
But I’m not so sure that’s going to happen any time soon, and I’m not so sure it should. I doubt that the Chinese will abandon a language that is embedded with the wisdom of their ancestors, and I think the same is true of those of us who speak English or any of the other major languages of our world. And a homogenized linguistic world may not be the way to true peace.
On the day they called Pentecost, 50 days after Easter, friends, disciples and apostles of Jesus experienced a new language that marked the dividing line between the ministry of the Lord and the ministry of the Spirit. It is said that over 3000 people who couldn’t understand one another’s languages--the languages of the Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Cretans, Arabs, Romans, Jews, the languages of the inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and Libya—those 3000 people were blessed with a new language that was more inclusive than their own. On Pentecost, the birthday of the church, 50 days after the incredible phenomenon of an empty tomb, the Holy Spirit—the powerful love of Father and Son--communicated the only way to true peace in the world.
It was through a new language of love.
Unlike our own languages that sometime sound like arrogant, angry, mistrustful, aggressive horn-blowing, the language of the Spirit communicates love, joy, peace, trustfulness, kindness, goodness, gentleness, patience, and self-control.
The language of love is paradoxically a language of silence, a language that speaks to a listening heart. The language of the Spirit invites us to pay attention to one another, to listen to the hopes and dreams and desires of our brothers and sisters. The language of love helps us see through the misbehaviors, selfishness and sinfulness of the people all around us and all around the world and even within ourselves. The language of the Spirit always breaks down the barriers between us, reveals our fundamental relationship as children of God.
But wrapped up in our selves, we deliberately choose a lesser language.
We choose a language that divides us rather than unites us as brothers and sisters. We choose a language that makes us deaf to one another, deaf to the fears, doubts, concerns, and worries of our brothers and sisters. We choose a language that enables us to label one another as Jews and Christians and Muslims, as gays and straights and transgender, as republicans and democrats, liberal and conservative, traditional and progressive, alt-righters and bleeding hearts. We choose a language that enables us to write one another off as narcissists, rednecks, commies, racists, terrorists, anchor babies, papists, infidels, heretics, egotists, deadbeats, trust babies, trolls, elitists, hacks, bigots, misogynists, haters, and dozens of others.
The Spirit came upon the earth with a new language on the 50th day after Easter, and it brought everyone together as a family of brothers and sisters---young, old, rich and poor, Greek, Jew, woman, man, black, brown, yellow and white----and they all understood one another. And from that day forward they knew when the Spirit was with them---whenever divisions ceased, whenever selfishness was overcome, whenever loneliness was dispelled, they felt the Spirit making them one body and one spirit in the Lord Jesus.
And the same is true of us. You know, this church of ours was never meant to be a private affair, it was never meant to foster anonymity or separation. This church of ours is meant to be a real community, a true family, where we share the most important of things with one another. It was not meant to be an obligation, or a duty, or a chore, or a guilt trip. It was never supposed to be a place where people were strangers to one another, barely looked at one another, treated one another with only the minimal courtesy. And I hate to say it but lots of Catholic churches are just that---and for many people in them the experience isn’t a whole lot different than going to the library or the lecture hall or the gym. You come and do what you have to do, and you get out.
That’s not what the church is supposed to be, and if the Spirit is alive in the church, that’s what it will never be. But you’ve got to want the Spirit, and you’ve got to be open to the Spirit, and when you are, with the Spirit in our midst, it is a collective love, a new language that is evident for all who can see and hear.
Wǒ bù huì shuō zhōngwén. I don’t speak Chinese. I don’t speak English. I speak love, I choose to listen with love, I choose to love all my brothers and sisters, no matter what they speak.
So, let’s pray for the Holy Spirit to come rest in our individual hearts. Let’s pray for the Holy Spirit to truly come make us a family of love across the whole earth, from here to China. Let’s pray….come Holy Spirit fill our hearts, our minds, our souls that we may love one another and in our love bring the love of Jesus to all we meet and serve, and we say this prayer as one body in Jesus, Amen.
If you love someone, leave them.
Ascension of the Lord A 5/28/17 Acts1:1;Eph1;Mt28:16-20 HF 10:45, 5pm;SOS 7pm Jmayzik SJ
A few years ago I was driving on a rural road in Connecticut at dusk during the magic hour--that 20 minute period of indirect light in the morning or afternoon that cinematographers love when the sun is just below the horizon and the landscape glows under a beautiful golden sky. I remember wondering as I was driving if heaven had a gorgeous landscape of trees and meadows and merry brooks like the ones I was passing on this road.
I probably should have been paying more attention, because at that moment a deer suddenly jumped right out of the bushes to my right just ahead of me. I slammed on my brakes and successfully avoided the animal, but the car that was passing me on the left was not as fortunate. She hit the deer, and it was thrown off to the side of the road. She stopped her car, and I stopped mine, and we both got out. There was significant damage to the front of her car, and she was shaken, but she told me she was OK. We approached the deer. It was lying on its side, and it apparently had died. We both expressed how bad we felt for the deer, and acknowledged that it would have been impossible to avoid it in any case. The woman called AAA and I called the local police to report the dead deer, and I stayed there with her until about 20 minutes later when a tow truck came and took the woman and her car away.
The tops of the trees were outlined with a golden tone, and it was still beautiful but the violence of the accident and the death of the deer had spoiled its glory. I got in my car, buckled my seat belt, turned on the engine and was about to pull out when I saw a baby deer standing off to the side of the road amidst the trees, looking over towards the body of what was probably her mama. I put the car in park, wondering if I should do anything. I opened the door, and the sound and the movement must have scared her, and she ran off into the darkened forest of trees where she had been standing. There was nothing I could do, so I started driving back home.
On the way I wondered: what does a baby deer do when its mama dies like that? How will it grow into the deer it is supposed to be? Will it find another adult deer to take care of it and guide it, or will it just fend for itself somehow? And of course I thought of Bambi, who also lost his mother, or Simba in the Lion King, who was orphaned when his father Mufasa was killed. How did he learn to follow in his father’s footsteps as lion king?
Last week I had a conversation with the parent of one of my film students who just graduated from college. Her daughter had decided not to come home, and had made plans to move across the country right away to try to start a career in California. “I was shocked when she announced this idea,” said the mother. “I had been looking forward to having her back with the family, at least for a couple of years. She doesn’t know anyone out there, she has no job, and not a lot of money. And she doesn’t know how to cook! I’m really worried for her,” she said.
I could see the pain in her eyes. She felt hurt and rejected, and her fear was real that her daughter would have a difficult time of it. And she was right to some extent. It’s not easy to break into the film industry in Los Angeles, it’s expensive out there, and it’s a challenge to find places to live and new friends for emotional support. And I had to admit to her mother that I did something similar on my own graduation day, surprising my parents who were expecting to load up the car in Washington DC with me and my stuff and take me home to New York, until I announced to them that I was staying there instead—also without a job! Grateful as I was for all my parents had done for me, I knew that I needed to be on my own to start my life after college. And it turned out that during those couple of years that I experienced a commitment with a girlfriend, learned amazing things about myself with a challenging job, and struggled with the idea of going to law school as my parents hoped, or joining the Jesuits. I’m pretty sure that if I had gone home, I wouldn’t be standing here before you today in this place.
Leaving home for school can also be traumatic for parents and their children. Year after year I witnessed so many tearful farewells when parents dropped off their freshmen children to begin their college careers at the university where I have been teaching. And I have had so many conversations with worried parents when some of their fears came true—their kids getting into trouble with alcohol or drugs, or abandoning their faith, or acquiring a different political point of view, or choosing a career that doesn’t get the parental stamp of approval. It takes a lot out of a parent to let their children go, to give them space and freedom to grow. And yet we raise our children to be free and independent, right? To be honest, I suspect that I would have a lot of trouble actually doing that, which is probably why I’d be a terrible parent.
There often comes a time in our lives when we can have a greater influence on the children we love if we consciously throw them out of the nest to spread their own wings and discover their own unique gifts. The truth is that children can’t simply be clones of their parents, nor should they be. The truth is that to truly grow into ourselves it helps to be able to be physically, intellectually and emotionally detached at times from the people who have had the greatest role in forming us—our parents and family. It’s a paradox, right? Sometimes the only way to love someone is to leave them.
In the days after Jesus died, he wanted to console his friends and reveal the truth of his conquest over death—the earth-shattering fact of his resurrection. And so he appeared to them in different faces and improbable places. But he also wanted to teach his friends that he was entrusting a power to them with which they would transform the world. And when he believed that the message had been received, he knew that he needed to get out of the way and let them fly on their own. “It is better for you that I go away!,” he said. “You will be sad now, but your sadness will turn to joy. If I don't go away, you will be unable to receive my spirit.” Jesus said that over and over to them, words of wisdom that parents sometimes have the courage to say and act upon with their children.
And sometimes children need to say those words to their parents. “Mom and Dad, I have to go to LA, it’s better for you and for me. If I don’t go, I’ll never be able to become the adult you need me to be. It’s the only way that our love can grow deeper.”
I’m not sure exactly what happened when Jesus ‘ascended’ to heaven. Was it like in the movies--the husband in the movie Ghost, or the girl in The Lovely Bones? The ascension of Jesus is described in our first reading: “as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.” And as the apostles lingered in their gaze heavenward, astonished at Jesus’ disappearance, two angelic-looking guys suddenly appeared and instructed them that it was time lower their eyes and look earthward. It was time to get to work.
The Kingdom of God was now in their hands, with the help and the support of the Holy Spirit.
During the morning magic hour exactly 26 years ago today I was standing inside the doorstep of my parents’ home, watching the orange sun reveal itself as it rose from beneath the distant hills alongside the Hudson River.
There were tears in my eyes as I tried to digest and accept my mother’s final moments on the living room sofa right behind me. As she had taken her last breath, I witnessed the phenomenon of her departing soul. Left behind on the couch was the physical body she had shed, the instrument that had communicated her love to her family, her friends, and to me. I realized she no longer needed it, nor did I.
I looked out at the Springtime world before me like the baby deer beside the road, and realized that I would live this day for the first time in my life without the presence of my mother on the earth. I had crossed a major threshold in my life. As with my mother, and all the faithful departed, so too with Jesus.
He has ascended, but he has never left us alone. “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?” It is our time to transform the world in his love. The Kingdom of God is now in our hands, with the help and support of the Holy Spirit. “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded to you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
6th Sunday Easter A 5/21 /17 Acts 8,1Pet3,Jn 14:15-21Holy Fam 9:15 & 10:45; SOS 7 pm J Mayzik SJ
A few years ago I was on my way to the student residence where I said a weekly evening Mass in a lounge. A fierce storm with crazy thunder and lightning had just passed over the town, and I passed a street where a tree had fallen and pulled down the power lines that were right beside it. A large wire had been detached, and it was dancing on the ground with sparks shooting out of one end. Everyone nearby was giving it wide berth, afraid of course that it they strayed too close they would be electrocuted.
I looked up at the wires on the poles up and down the street. It’s funny how we are so used to seeing them that we don’t notice how they are everywhere, and actually they’re pretty ugly and primitive-looking. Some of the poles have lots of wires hanging off them, some have big round transformers or large ‘knuckles’ of switches and regulators at the junctions of the wires. From what I know of the power grid system, those wires come out of the power plant with an amazing 700,000 volts, and then they are stepped down by a transformer to 7200 volts for transmission at 300 mile lengths. When the power finally gets to your house, it’s stepped down to 240 volts max. But that is enough to kill you if you are unfortunate enough to touch a live electrical wire in your home.
Watching that wild wire dancing in the street was kind of mesmerizing. I couldn’t take my eyes off it, and I was in awe that so much power could be carried within a relatively small piece of wire. All that power hanging in the streets outside our homes. All that power giving us lights, music, TV images, Facebook pages, air conditioning and heat, cold milk, hot water, phone charging, and hair drying.
As I approached the residence hall, I discovered that the fallen power line had affected the campus as well. There were some emergency lights on in the hallways, but the lounge where we would celebrate Mass was in darkness. No problem, I thought. I usually used lots of candles on the small table that functioned as the altar anyway. And I could use my iPhone for music, although I noticed that my phone was almost out of juice.
I had initiated this type of informal Mass in the residence hall because I wanted students---many of whom had abandoned Mass attendance at school and at home—to have an experience of spiritual intimacy with Jesus and with one another. In a setting like this Church, where you are way out there and the altar and I and all the ministers are way up here, the formality of the ritual and the space can sometimes make us feel disassociated with the person of Jesus and one another. Even the kiss of peace can feel at times very forced and uncomfortable. Many of my students found the Masses at their home churches to be distant, sterile, lifeless, and uninspiring. Of course, some of that was their attitude and lack of devotion, but the truth is I have experienced the same feelings often enough myself.
We set up and lit about 15 candles on our little altar, and everyone sat on the floor around the table like you do when you are going to have a meal with your family. The candlelight played off the young faces of the students, who brought all their adolescent concerns with them that night: Who am I? Who do I really belong to? What kind of a person am I meant to be in the world? Along with those questions were their fears that they were not as attractive or smart or wealthy or athletic as their peers, their worries about their grades, their concerns about their families, their dreams for success and love and a good life. We prayed informally to be touched by the Lord during our time together in the dark, and then we listened to stories about Jesus the man and our brother and his own path of self-discovery in relationship to the divine. And then we sought to experience the presence of Jesus in our shared meal, to experience right then and there the hope and the love that promised far more to each of us than a fancy university degree or a prestigious job and salary at a top ten corporation could offer.
We held hands when we prayed the Our Father (slowly, by the way, so that we really listened to what we were asking for), and then, when it came time for the kiss of peace, we got up off the floor. A handshake would never do. Do you think that’s how Jesus welcomed friend and stranger? No, hugs were in order, even if we didn’t know one another all that well.
And here’s the thing that happened that night that drove a lesson home for me. As we reached out our arms towards one another for a hug, a surprising, unexpected spark of electricity popped between each of our encounters. And they weren’t little sparks—they had amazing power to them. The first shocks took us all by surprise, but as we went around the room--one to the other--the shocks continued. In the darkness of the room you could see these big sparks each time we approached one another. A couple of the girls fake-screamed and declared that they wouldn’t hug anyone else, but then of course they did, followed by more fake screams, followed by hysterical laughter. We were all laughing out of control. Such electricity on a night when we thought the power was out! Our kiss of peace lasted a lot longer than usual at that Mass, and when we finally sat down, moving on to Communion, something about the group had definitively changed. When we shared and consumed the consecrated bread and the consecrated wine, we knew that Jesus was above, below, around and within each of us, we just knew it in the center of our souls. And we knew that just as we belonged to Him, and to one another, we were part of something way beyond what we could truly understand.
I clicked on a song on my iPhone, I think it was Josh Groban’s You Raise Me Up, and we were all deeply moved by it. Then suddenly it stopped in the middle of a dramatic part. I looked down at the phone and realized that my battery had died. That got us all laughing again. It was a good laugh, the kind of laugh that I’m sure Jesus would have enjoyed, that I hope he enjoyed whenever things got a little too intense with him and his disciple friends.
It was in one of those intense moments at the Last Supper that Jesus attempted to reassure his friends about his upcoming departure from them. They were confused, upset, and probably half-believing what he was telling them. Leave us? Why? Leave us? To go where? Even after watching Judas sell him out as they sat around the dinner table, the disciples didn’t understand their own betrayal of him was at hand.
At that final meal, he tried to explain the intimate connection he would always have with them, and through him, to the source of all love. He said it in multiple ways, but they remained confused. It might have been easier to get it through their thick skulls if they knew about electricity.
Look Philip, he might have said, my transmission lines go directly to the spiritual power plant of love. I am the transformer through whom the spirit power flows to you. I make it safe enough for you to handle. And when you are with one another in my love, you will feel the happy shock that binds you as brothers and sisters. And of course after the resurrection, Philip learned to use the power that had been transmitted to him from Jesus: unclean spirits came out of possessed people he touched, and many paralyzed or crippled people were cured. There was shock, followed by great laughter at his amazing power.
I took another look at the poles on which our power lines are carried. You know, electricity is the product of the very elemental matter of the universe, the relationship between the protons and circling electrons of the atom. You can’t see electricity, but you know it’s there. Electric power – though invisible – is quite tangible. Proof lies in the results. Flip a switch and there’s light. Plug in the kettle for your morning coffee, and the water boils. There is another kind of power that can turn us all on to one another in this room. You can’t see it, but you know it’s here. Proof lies in the results. There is genuine warmth between us when we shake one another’s hand. There is obvious kindness when we serve one another at this table or out in the parking lot or at Perkins or Dunkin Donuts within the hour. It is possible, you know, for real intimacy with Jesus and one another, even here.
When you leave, take another look at the poles alongside the road out there. I wonder if it is only a coincidence that many of them look a lot like that one up there. The miracles that those poles carry.
A form. And a face.
5th Sunday Easter A 5/14/99 Acts 6, 1Pet2,Jn 14:1-12 HF 9:15; SOS 12 Noon J Mayzik SJ
I spent Monday afternoon at the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan with an alumnus of Fairfield University, where I have been teaching. The museum has become famous in recent years for being featured in the movie Night at the Museum and its two sequels. In those movies, the exhibited stuffed animals and dummy statues of Neanderthals and Native Americans and Theodore Roosevelt all come to life at night, causing mayhem and chaos for a newly-hired night watchman played by Ben Stiller.
When I was a kid I visited the museum with my mama on a class trip. But it has been a long time since my last visit: I’m guessing more than 50 years. As we purchased our tickets, my young friend and I thought it would be a fun afternoon. But after about a half hour into our visit, we both admitted that it was pretty boring, and we started making jokes about some of the exhibits that we were seeing.
There was room after room of life-sized dioramas behind large glass windows: stuffed buffalo grazing peacefully on wild grass; stuffed giraffes eating the leaves of fake trees; stuffed birds, lions, elephants, monkeys, and a whole bunch of other dead animals in front of large, painted, fake scenery backgrounds that were supposed to recreate the environments where they normally lived.
There were also many scenes that had unrealistic-looking mannequins representing early humans, frozen in place as they cooked pretend food on pretend fires, or fished pretend lakes, or crafted pretend axes that I suppose would allow them to hunt pretend animals. Like at all museums, there were lengthy and boring written explanations at each exhibit, trying to tell the historical story of the nature all around us.
Looking around, I was pretty sure that these exhibits hadn’t changed at all since I visited the museum as a boy. I doubted they would still capture the attention of children today, who can see far more amazing depictions of nature on an iPad. Given all our amazing technology, I thought, couldn’t they do something more with all of this? It all looked so lifeless, drab, outdated. It was no wonder that they made three popular movies centered on the idea that the exhibits came to life at night!
As a filmmaker, I realized that there was something very important missing in the museum, a fundamental element of filmmaking and all storytelling, including the real stories of our lives.
What was missing was any mention of conflict.
The reason we pay attention to stories, the reason why we are not bored by them is because they reveal an essential truth about life. In life, there is always a struggle. There are obstacles. There is competition. Animals devour one another, blood is shed in fights over instinct, territory, control, ideology, and sometimes centuries-old revenge. In the world we live in, goodness always lives right next to abomination, savagery and evil. Fear, greed, envy, pride, lust, apathy, self-indulgence, and anger live beside purity, patience, diligence, compassion, kindness, humility, moderation and peace.
If museums are supposed to reveal the truth about life, they fail if they do not show the brutality and the heartlessness amidst the dioramas of peace. There was none of that in the Museum of Natural History.
On that museum visit with my class over 50 years ago, my mother came along as a parent chaperone. I was very proud that she was with us, and of course I believed it gave me a kind of special status. I don’t remember the particular details, but I recall that I became jealous of the attention that my mom was giving to a kid I didn’t really like in the class. I saw him as a bully, and he hadn’t been nice to me. So I decided to pull rank on him when it came time for lunch. I purposely excluded him from sitting at our table in the cafeteria, even though he clearly wanted to sit with us. When I saw my triumph over the kid, I was happy.
My mother understood what was going on, and later when we were getting ready to board the bus to go home, she pulled me aside to talk to me. She told me that what I did wasn’t nice, it wasn’t the right way to act. She explained to me that the kid had problems, and wasn’t as lucky as I was in lots of ways, and that it was important to be especially nice to him. I protested, of course, telling her that he had been mean to me, but she insisted that I try to be the better ‘man’. Maybe you could sit with him on the bus, she said, gently urging me on. I was so relieved when I boarded and found him already sitting with a partner. I missed the opportunity to act the right way.
The salvation of Monday’s visit for me was the planetarium section of the museum. In that part of the museum they use entertaining movies and technology-active exhibits to explain the truth about the universe. They don’t spare the conflict, the struggle or the obstacles. There is real drama in the story of the birth of everything. We watched a short film narrated by Liam Neeson about the Big Bang, and the development of the universe with its trillions of galaxies and their trillions of stars and planets. I was inspired, as I always am when I contemplate the incredible cosmic reality of which we are a part.
It’s the big picture, you know, which most of us ignore as we go about the minutiae of our day, content perhaps to live within the confines of the small prison we create for ourselves. Out there, among the other stars still hurtling across the unending emptiness and void, the whole truth can be perceived. From among those stars, galaxies, clusters and superclusters, the dazzling outline of the meaning of our little lives begins to present itself.
It has a form, and a face.
When Jesus attempted to explain who he was to the simple men who were his friends and followers, they didn’t understand. He tried to cushion the blow of what he knew would be his imminent departure from them. When he warned them that he was going ahead 'to prepare a better place for them' with his Father, it devastated them. If your home is where your heart is, then their home was being sold out from under them, and their hearts were broken. "Do not let your hearts be troubled", he said to them, and then he promised them that he would always be with them if they could raise their hearts and their minds to the truth that was all around them, if they could break free of the small prisons that they had made for themselves. He would be one with the very essence of the universe, with the supreme creator who set the stars to shine and the planets to spin. Look for me, he said, underneath everything that is, infusing and defeating the abomination, savagery and evil with astounding goodness. He told them that through his sacrifice the conflict was over, the war was won for all time.
He--the way, and the truth and the life: a cosmic Christ, the Omega of all creation. He is the purpose or final cause for which all things are made.
Sometimes we are as clueless as his friends, the apostles. When we speak about God, we are like babies, unable to grasp the enormity of the idea, and our expression of God’s reality is beyond us. If we can’t really get our minds around trillions of galaxies with trillions of stars and planets, how can we dare to understand the creator of all of them?
It is only Jesus who gives us any hope for that access--only in Jesus, the way, Jesus the truth, Jesus the life---can we connect to the power that lives within us.
There is nothing boring about our natural history. The seed of its fullness in Jesus the Christ was embedded in the very first living cell that was born on the good earth. It sprouted in the complex life that followed, in the creatures who crossed the threshold of consciousness, in our ancient brothers and sisters who first entered into self-consciousness. And it came to fruition and maturity in the incarnation of one mother’s child whose name was Jesus.
At the blessing of the Paschal Candle on the Easter vigil, the priest prays, “Christ yesterday and today; Beginning and End; Alpha and Omega; All times are His and all ages; To Him be glory and dominion through all the ages of eternity.”
One mother’s child, the Alpha and the Omega, ruling over the trillions and trillions of stars, galaxies, clusters and superclusters. Ruling over the good earth and all its trees, grasses and flowers, all the birds of the air, fish in the sea, animals on the land, all of us, brothers and sisters.
How is it possible? Well that mother had something to do with it. Her holiness and her nurturing, her lessons about acting the right way, her willingness to participate in the incarnation of the earth. She was in some way like all our mothers, and it was at her breast he was first nourished by her selfless love.
Holy Mary, Mother of Our Lord Jesus, Hear our prayer for our own dear mothers. Take their hand as we hold her in our hearts and minds. Let the strength you have known as a mother fill their bodies. Let the devotion you feel for your son fill their hearts. Let the grace that surrounds you fill their spirits. Holy Mary, may your divine presence In our mothers lives, today and every day, bring them joy and peace forever. Amen.
2nd Sunday Easter A 4/23/17 John 20:19-31;Acts 2;1 Peter 1 JMayzik SJ
I’ve been recently sampling a popular HBO show I hadn’t watched before, which actually just aired its final episode forever. It’s called Girls, and although it’s not my usual television fare, I got into it. Girls delves into the daily experiences of a group of twenty-something girls living in New York City, often dealing with humiliating and disastrous events regarding young adulthood, relationships and sexuality. It’s a pretty good show, it draws you in---sometimes in its shockingly honest portrayals of modern day choices. It has been controversial, but it has also won several Emmys, Golden Globes, Peabody and other television awards.
As a screenwriter, I appreciate that the characters on the show are deeply flawed, like most of us real people. They are also often self-absorbed and cynical about life, and their issues and crises are familiar to anyone who has friends or children in that stage of their lives.
The girls of Girls.
They remind me of many of the young people I have taught for the last 20 years, whose youth is evident in their unlined faces, in their ignorance of history, in their awkwardness with adult responsibilities.
Those young people have been a blessing to me. I have loved being with them, getting to know them personally, learning about what matters to them, what bothers them, what they dream about.
And yet sometimes I get a sense that those 18 or 20 short years on the earth have done something to them, and it’s not always a good thing. Sometimes I wonder how they have become so cynical, how they have come to see the world with such jaded eyes. Somewhere along the way, the sense of wonder has been lost.
Not entirely, for sure. They still soar with infatuation, get wildly enthusiastic over their music, reveal a goodness and innocence in wanting to make the world a better place.
But they also come with so many doubts about their future, about the way the world works, about the underlying motivations of people. They don’t believe too easily, and it often appears that beneath the seemingly good economic and social circumstances of their lives, they have had a hard time of it. It is sometimes painful to see their negativity, their apathy, and their cynicism.
At the Catholic university where I have taught, most of the students were raised as Catholics. On a given Sunday, only about 10% attend one of the multiple Masses offered on campus. Part of that is normal for adolescents who are attempting to discover what they really believe. But it is also obvious from my many conversations with them that the Church has failed to be an attractive or relevant force in their lives.
The world that our children grow up in these days also plays a very big part. Our time could never be called an ‘Age of Innocence’, as Edith Wharton ironically entitled her novel about New York in the late 1800’s. Just watch one episode of Girls and you will undoubtedly agree.
Everywhere you look—in politics, art, commerce, sports---we are surrounded by a deep skepticism about the motivations of institutions, businesses, politicians, entertainers, athletes, and religious leaders. That sometimes gets transferred to our co-workers, our neighbors, and even our family members. People who practice altruism, who are deeply generous, merciful, compassionate and selfless, people who advocate for those qualities in our communities, are considered naïve or too accommodating or too trusting.
In our world, it is not easy to believe in and act on something that is simply good and true.
So let me ask you a question. How would you rate yourself? A hopeful person, an optimistic person, a person who is sometimes called naïve, or gullible, or a starry-eyed dreamer? Or are you--do others see you as-- a realist, or a pragmatist, or a rational person? Or are you perhaps a pessimist, a doubter, a disbeliever, or someone who has difficulty trusting the world and the people around you?
Here’s another question to ponder. When you entered into this room a few minutes ago from the parking lot, did you expect to see Jesus? Did you expect that you would encounter the Risen Lord in the next hour or so?
It’s OK if you didn't. It’s OK if you came here because you felt obligated, or because you believed that you would be committing a sin if you didn't come to Mass. It’s OK if you came because you were sort of forced to by your parents or someone else. It’s OK if you came because you thought it would probably do you some good, maybe even make you feel a little better. It’s OK if you didn’t really expect to see Jesus right here and right now.
It is so easy to be doubtful about a lot of things. That was Thomas’s problem, too. When Jesus was alive, and giving life to everyone around him, it was easy to believe and easier to hope. It was a great time for those guys, his followers, because they had found the one they had been looking for all their lives. He had set their hearts on fire, and nothing was ever the same again for them. And then, he was disgraced and tortured and executed as a fraud and a criminal, and it was very very hard for them to hope anymore, or to believe in anything. It seemed to hit Thomas harder than the rest. You wonder if this great disappointment had been the last straw in a life that had delivered him a lot of disappointments. You wonder what wounds of his own Thomas was enduring.
Who here hasn’t been there? Who hasn’t lost hope, or their dreams? Who here hasn’t had their faith shaken to the core, at one time or another in their lives? I'm pretty sure that there isn’t a single person sitting in this room whose heart hasn’t been broken at one time or another. Pick up the pieces, move on, risk again giving your heart to another potential girlfriend or boyfriend? No way. No way. Your heart hardens, you learn to be very cautious, sometimes you wall yourself off from it all. And I know it all very personally. I’ve been there, just like you.
You look around at the world, you listen to the news, it can be hard to hope. There is such mistrust, such bitterness, such anger, such hatred.
We see pictures of death and violence, of broken bodies of young children who make themselves into human bombs, of soldiers and tanks shooting innocent civilians. We are shocked and horrified and we wonder how humanity can sink so low.
We hear of betrayals—in the bedroom, in the boardroom, in the rectories of our churches.
We experience the bitterness directly—the nasty notes, the silent treatment, the fingered gestures from car windows.
And sometimes, we are the sources of the same.
It can be hard to hope, and harder sometimes, to believe.
A few years ago I had a student who was a wonderful person. He was a boy with a big smile and an infectious laugh. He had many friends and was much loved by his teachers and his peers. But underneath it all he was struggling with lots of issues, some not so awful, some more central to his life. Among them, he was dealing with the fact that he was gay. It gave him a great deal of heartache, anxiety, and fear. He was subjected to a lot of rejection and ridicule and some downright hatred. But you know, he deeply believed in Jesus as his Savior, and he believed that God loved him as a gay young man.
But then he faced an even greater challenge. He was diagnosed with a terrible disease that ravaged his body. Throughout all the treatments and medical procedures, he smiled and carried on with hope. His faith was inspiring, and infectious, including to me.
Then one day I visited him in the hospital, and I suddenly met Thomas, lying in the bed, filled with fear and doubt. Show me the wounds, he was saying. I’ll believe it when I see it. For the first time, with me at least, he wasn’t so sure of the saving part of Jesus, for him. He was probably at his lowest point in the illness. I tried hard to raise his spirits, to give him hope, but it got to me too. It wasn't easy to hide my sadness.
Several months later, just before he died, he told me that he had seen Jesus, and believed. Where, I asked, where did you see Jesus? He smiled. “I saw him in you, when you cried with me when I was so depressed.” I saw the tears in his own eyes as he looked at me.
I didn’t know what to say. It was humbling. I know how poor my faith is. I know how often I doubt. But I think I understood what he meant.
I can’t prove to you that there is a God, or that Jesus is Him, and I find it scary since I’m betting my life that there is one and He is it. I can’t prove it, but I do catch of glimpse of Him or her, from time to time. I’m looking at Him right now.
I mean right here in this Church, looking at your faces and the pain and the burdens and the insecurities that they reveal, I see the goodness of your hearts, and for me, that is a wonder-filled blessing. I believe I see God at this very moment, and that if I choose, I will see Him today, and tomorrow, and all the days of my life.
Can I lose faith? It’s so easy to be Thomas, and faith only exists in tension with doubt. Otherwise it's not faith, it's a sure thing. If you’re looking for proofs, if you are looking to put your fingers in the actual wounds, well, maybe this is the wrong place to be sitting.
But you know, there are wounds to touch, and perhaps we should not quickly dismiss Thomas' instincts. Perhaps there is something for us in touching the wounds.
There are the wounds of an elderly relative afraid of being abandoned. There are the wounds of an adolescent, suffering his first rejection in love. There are the wounds of the co-worker, suffering under an unjust boss. There are the wounds of a little girl, who thinks she isn’t as loved as her brother. There are the wounds of your wife and your husband, your brother and your sister, your mother and your father.
And there are your own wounds to touch, the wounds of the doubter.
What are your wounds? Have you suffered a great loss? Were you not loved enough? Do you feel like you are not good enough? Are you addicted? ? Are you physically limited or in pain a lot? Are you lonely? Do you wonder if you have made all the wrong choices? Do you think your life has no purpose?
The wounds to touch may be our own, dear Thomas, and in those wounds you may find what Thomas Didymus was looking for as well. "My Lord, and my God."
For it is in the wounds of Jesus, your wounds, our wounds together, that you will know the love that was shed for you, is shed for you right now. And that realization is enough to overcome all the doubts and heal the wounds of your heart. For that wonderful gift there is only one word that comes to mind in this Easter season: Alleluia!
Good Friday Service April 14, 2017 Holy Family Church, Staten Island 3pm
They call it collateral damage, the euphemistic, inoffensive, evasive term to describe the effects of the cruise missile strike, or the explosion from the barrel bomb: the unintended killing of innocent civilian mothers, fathers, and children who happened to be in the blast zone during the attack. A spokesman said “We are currently assessing the collateral damage in the aftermath of our mission.” Collateral damage: these babies, that young woman, that elderly grandfather, this teenage boy.
There is another term that the authorities dare not use: collateral beauty. It’s about the beauty that coexists with the darkness, the beauty that is revealed within the tragedy. It’s about the goodness that is never extinguished by the horror, life that indeed survives even death. Collateral beauty. Collateral beauty.
It was born on a Friday morning, a lot like today, over 2000 years ago. On that morning, the happy smiles and triumphant celebration of just a few days before had disappeared. There was fear and anger in the air, and the expectation that collateral damage was necessarily on its way.
After a tortuous and sleepless night, Jesus was brought into the center of the courtyard, where the soldiers disrobed him and then tied his hands above his head to a post leaving his back bare and his legs exposed. Another Roman soldier came out with the flagrum. This was a whip, with several strands of leather attached to it, and in the leather were shards of glass and metal balls which added to the weight.
The massive muscles of the soldier’s arms pulled backwards on the flagrum, and then directed it down with full force onto Jesus bare back, ripping through the skin-- Jesus’ soft skin. Blow after blow, it began to cut through the subcutaneous tissue, exposing some of the veins, bursting and rupturing the capillaries under the skin and leaving blood oozing. Over and over and over again the whip was brought down on Jesus’ back, leaving ribbons of flesh hanging. The effect of the blows was similar to being stung by a scorpion, hence the flagrum’s other name of scorpia.
So hideous was the use of a flagrum as a form of punishment that the victim usually fainted and sometimes died before the actual execution could be carried out. It was a torturous, torturous morning for Jesus.
So at this point, Jesus’s hands were untied, and he half-consciously fell and slumped to the floor.
At this point the soldiers, they saw a joke, they saw a joke in Jesus, they quickly grabbed a robe, and a crude stick representing a mock scepter, a ceremonial sign of authority. And they laughed when they put it in his hands, making him a pretend king.
They grabbed some thorn bushes and quickly weaved together a crown of these huge thorns, not gently placed. They thrust this crown of thorns onto the scalp of Jesus piercing the thin tissue on his forehead. Copious amounts of blood began to pour out and ooze into Jesus’ eyes, and at this point Jesus couldn’t see, and was barely alive, but forced, forced to do more.
Barely conscious, the soldiers attempted to make Jesus carry the weight of the 125 pound rough wooden patibulum, the horizontal crossbeam part of a cross. It scraped across his bare back and he fell over under it. He just couldn’t do it.
Desperate to get the crucifixion over with, the Roman soldiers grabbed Simon of Cyrene from the crowd. With all the onlookers yelling and cursing and spitting at Jesus, Simon was forced to carry the patibulum the rest of the 650 yards to Golgotha, down the road we know today as the Via Delorosa, the Way of Suffering.
The crucifixion was designed to be one of the most heinous and most brutal forms of punishment known to man at that time. It was excruciating, a term that literally means “out of crucifying”. It was usually intended to provide a death that was particularly slow, painful, gruesome, humiliating, and public, using whatever means were most expedient for that goal. Although artists have traditionally depicted the figure on a cross with a loin cloth or a covering of the genitals, the person being crucified was usually stripped naked, and some victims suffered a stick forced upwards through their groin. Frequently, the legs of the person executed were broken or shattered with an iron club. This act hastened the death of the person but was also meant to deter those who observed the crucifixion from committing crimes against the authorities.
The soldiers and the procession finally got to the top. They ordered Simon of Cyrene to lay the patibulum down on the ground.
Then Jesus was thrown bare back onto the splintering wood of the cross. And the Roman soldiers stretched out his arms and they felt for the depressions in his wrist between the radius and the ulna, the two bones in the wrist, and they took the rusty nails and they began to drive them over and over again into his skin and into the knotted wood.
They pulled at his arms violently to dislocate his shoulders to make him stretch fully so they could secure him to the cross.
They took Jesus’ feet, bent them a little bit, and between the metatarsal bones and the foot, they drove the last rusty nail into the cross.
Death was near, but it certainly wasn’t finished.
As the cross was slowly erected, it was dropped into a two-foot hole, jerking Jesus’ body when it settled, and his bloody bare back scraped across the splintering wood.
As he hung there from his wrists and his feet, the nerves began to shoot back and forth and exploding amounts of pain began to overwhelm his brain and his body. He struggled to relieve the pain, straining and pushing off with his feet against the wood for a moment, until his strength gave out. He hung there, sagging on that cross, trying to hold himself together.
After hours of hanging on the cross, the muscles along his pectoral region around his ribs began to slowly cramp up. Jesus struggled to get air. While he could push himself against the wood and inhale, the muscles cramping here wouldn’t allow Jesus to exhale. With all the oxygen around him, he was slowly suffocating on the cross. (pause, move)
The end was near for Jesus. The skin of his face was purple and stained with his blood and his sweat and his tears. As his tortured body hung there, his heart struggled to pump thick, sluggish blood to the critical parts of his body. His lungs frantically panicking to get oxygen and air. He knew it was coming. He could feel the cold of death creeping through his veins. His body was now in extremis.
Finally his mission of atonement was complete. With one last surge of energy, Jesus pushed himself off the cross and exclaimed with his last breath: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Finally, it was finished.
And then a huge explosion, far bigger than one from the mother of all bombs, shook the very foundations of the planet, convulsed outward and upward, rocking the billions of galaxies that stretch out to the very end of the universe. For a moment the earth stopped spinning, the sun stopped shining, and a huge, icy wind blew across every desert, mountain, forest, field, and ocean. Every man, woman, and child; every bird, animal, fish, and insect; every tree, every bush, every flower, every blade of grass everything that was, shuddered and convulsed as the man on the cross, the “problem” for the religious and political powers of the day, was rendered as collateral damage.
But unbeknownst to all who stood frozen in that moment of time, they were beneficiaries of something that was beyond their comprehension: Collateral beauty.
And throughout all the days and years and centuries that have followed, throughout all the collateral damage to God’s creatures in every violent corner of this good earth—a sea of bloodshed, an ocean of sorrow and pain even unto this very day in our world---that single death on a cross gave birth to a beauty that transcends it all.
Collateral beauty that coexists with the darkness, the goodness that overcomes the horror, that survives even death.
Good, this Friday is.
It surrounds us, this beauty, this goodness, His goodness, and if you recognize it, it can almost break your heart with…gratitude.
Good, this Friday is, the day when collateral beauty was born.
This is the time to step up.
Palm Sunday 4/9/17 Holy Family 9:15 &5pm; SOS 1:15JMayzik SJ
If this story were a movie, it certainly starts out with a happy scene! I mean, a parade of triumph into the city, people whistling and shouting, “hip hip hurray”, “two four six eight, who do we appreciate?””Let’s go, Jesus...let’s go!”.
But you know what? If this were a movie, the ending would never sell. Most people want a happy ending when they go to the movies. They go to escape reality, not walk out of the theater at the end, crying over a fictional character’s final misery.
This week’s story has no happy ending. You have to go to the sequel for that.
But what if this story—the story of a man who is hailed as a king and hosanna-ed by everyone—what if there was no final misery at the end? What if the party continued thoughout the week, without all the treachery and betrayal? What if Pontius Pilate listened to his wife’s dream about the ‘so-called king’ and decided not to arrest him? Or what if some of Jesus’ friends persuaded Judas not to betray the man? Or what if at the last minute the crowd shouted out his name instead of Barrabas as the one who should be pardoned and excused from torture and crucifixion unto death? What if there were no Last Supper, no agony in the garden, no scourging, no mock crowning with thorns, no carrying of the cross, no nailing to the wood of a tree, no last words to the other criminals and to his best friend and to his mother, no final breath taken as his blood dripped onto the dry sand beneath his feet? What if the party continued, the good times just rolled on, what if he just continued to teach, and heal and make miracles for the rest of his life, what if he just died of old age with a wife and kids and grandkids, and they buried him in a magnificent tomb? What if it was a movie happy ending for him?
Well, for one thing, we probably wouldn’t be here in this place, we probably wouldn’t know each other, probably something much worse: we might not even be. For that matter, the whole world might not even be anymore—humankind and all its animals and its astonishing forests and grasslands and oceans and mountains and its blue blue sky. There’s a good chance if there had been a happy ending to this week, long ago we would have had a catastrophic war that wiped all of it and all of us off the face of the earth.
A happy ending for him, but a tragic one for everything and everyone else. What I’m saying is, it is a paradox. We want a happy ending, but to have a real happy ending we need his story to go to hell, literally.
What would our world be now if this week didn’t have backstabbing betrayal, wholesale self-interest and self-protection and shameful cowardice on the part of so many people? What would our world be like now if this week wasn’t defined by people like you and I who were afraid to lose their status, their comfort, their hard-earned property, their security, their privileges and their protections?
To really follow that man meant that your rights, privileges and entitlements would be threatened. To really follow that man meant becoming a rebel, a radical, a revolutionary, a traitor to nation and to religion, a terrorist armed with ideas that could overturn the way things are and have always been. To really follow that man meant in all probability you would lose it all—your house, your car, your job, your family, your friends, your dignity, and your life. And like us right now, there were very few back then who were willing to put it all on the line for him.
You get what I’m saying, right? If it happened today, right now in Staten Island, we’d be the first ones to abandon and betray him. Let’s be honest. We’re all addicts for the short-term happy ending. Give up our money, our comforts, our dignity, our popularity, our stuff…give up our life for him? You think you would do that, really? I’m embarrassed to say, I don’t think I would. I want to keep living in the happy here and now.
But my brothers and sisters, we are blessed because there was no happy ending at the end of the week for him. Despite the fact he was all alone at the end, no crowds, no hip hip hoorays, just spit and blood and tears and sweat on his face, because in fact he endured it all alone, we are able to live our lives with the promise of a real happy ending.
This is the time to step up. This is the time to put ourselves on the line. There is no escaping the truth of what is to come if we truly want to participate in the beautiful story he has created for us now and forever. It starts with this week of his Passion, but it does not end there.
May we walk with him this week, and in the passionate months and years to come. Come Sunday, may we give up our addictions for short-term happy endings, and commit to bring the real happy ending to the world in Him.
I see, said the blind man.
4th Sun Lent A 3/26/17 1Sam16,Eph5,Jn9:1-41 HF 5pm, SOS 7pm J MayzikSJ
Can you bring me, I asked, to the small villages outside of the city? I was talking to my tuk tuk driver. Tuk tuks are small carriages pulled by a motorscooter. The driver nodded, smiled, held his hands together and bowed, like Cambodians do. Half his face was scarred. I wanted to know what happened, how did he get that scar, but I was too polite. My name is Baoom. he said. Baoom? Baoom. Baoom? Baoom. I knew I wasn’t getting it quite right, and I felt bad. He got Jim on the first try.
Baoom knew a little English. “What you want see? Fields? Cows? Moket?” I thought he said markets, but after we repeated that last word a few times, each time a little differently, I wasn’t sure if we were saying the same thing. Sure, fields, cows…people, really. I wanted to see the non-tourist Cambodia, where the real people live out their days and nights. In fact, that was the purpose of my entire trip to Southeast Asia. I wasn’t really that interested in the famous sights that all the tours want to take you to see. I was looking for the truth behind all that. I’ve always been more interested in the small things: what people eat in the morning, what makes them laugh, how they communicate with one another, what they dream about for their lives. “Moket?”, Baoom said again, smiling. I nodded back, yes, I see said the blind man. My mother always used to say that. “I see, said the blind man to the deaf mute.” I had no idea, really. “Moket.”
We saw fields, rice fields. We saw a duck “farm”—about a hundred ducks corralled next to a puddle of muddy water. We saw cows that looked like they hadn’t eaten anything for a long time, skin barely covering their prominent ribs. And we saw lots of very poor people. Little children playing in mud. Old women cutting up coconuts to sell to passersby on the road. A bunch of people wailing to the sound of mournful music as they followed a cart with a coffin on it. A young man and an old man digging a ditch beside the dirt road. A woman selling gasoline out of old Coke bottles in front of her shack of a house.
It was nothing like in the tourist brochures. These people, their lives. I was among them, but not with them. I see, said the blind man, but what was I really seeing? I wondered. My brothers and sisters?
Baoom was struggling with the motorscooter, driving slower and slower. He stopped, turned off the engine, and apologized. He pointed to the steam coming off the engine, and reached for a dirty bottle with liquid in it from a storage cubby. It was water. The scooter was old, and he had to give it water because it was overheating. “So sorry,” he said. I understood. His tuk tuk was not fancy, and was worn-looking. It was actually one of the reasons why I chose him to drive me around. He looked like he needed the work.
The tuk tuk
We talked, as best as we could. He was 35, he had three children, he lived an hour away from the city. I think he said his house was just one room, on stilts. And he was poor.
Was I rich?, he asked with some hesitation.
How to answer him? I’m not rich, I thought to myself. I’m a priest, with a vow of poverty. But compared to him, yeah, I was like Donald Trump.
I shook my head no, feeling like a total fraud. “I see,” he said, “oh.” Did he see the lie in my eyes? Or did he see what was in my heart?
He tried to start the engine, but it wouldn’t turn over. He looked at me, and smiled apologetically. “We wait a moment, ok?”. Sure, I said. And then his eyes brightened. “Moket?” Yeah, sure, whatever, I nodded, and he gestured to me that we could walk a little ways down the road. To the market, maybe, I thought.
It was really hot, I mean the sun was super hot, and it was humid and we were both visibly sweating as we walked.
And suddenly behind some trees there was this very colorful pagoda. It looked like a small amusement park behind a wall in the middle of nowhere, avery fancy-looking building with a gold and red roof, two life-sized statues of white horses,and three or four baby pagoda shrines to the side of the main building, in gold and blue and green and red. In front there was a small pool with dirty water and with about a dozen turtles swimming around in it.
Baoom gestured to me to go into the pagoda, where there was a large gold Buddha statue, and candles burning in front of it. It was an astonishing sight. We took off our shoes and entered. And then Baoom motioned to me to look to the side, over in the corner. There was a tiny figure, a little old man, and he was looking at us, smiling. “Moket”, Baoom said. Baoom pushed me forward, and as I approached, I saw that he was blind, both eyes almost looked like they were sewn shut. Baoom sat down in front of the man, and gestured for me to do the same, which I did. And for the next 5 minutes or so, we simply looked at him. It was confusing to me at first, and uncomfortable, and I wondered just what I was doing there. But then I began to let go of my self-consciousness, and I started hearing the sounds all around us. A rooster crowing from somewhere, some far off voices, the sound of water from the turtle pond.
Throughout it all, the old man continued to smile, and I smiled back at him. Did he see?
It felt like hours went by. Was it hours? His sewn eyes, my open ones. What is sight, I mean, what is real sight?
And then at one point the old man put his hands together and bowed his head towards us. I watched Baoom do the same to him, and of course I followed his example. And then we got up, and after bowing again to the old man, Baoom led me out of the pagoda, and back down the road to the tuk tuk. I got in, he got on and the scooter started. He turned his head back towards me, with his thumb up.
On the way home, I thought to myself, “Moket”. Those five minutes felt like five hours. I see, said the blind man. And I saw because of the blind man.
"I see, said the blind man," it was just one of those expressions that my mother always said, one of those mother things. She would usually use it to subtly point out to me that things are not always as they seem. I could see her saying it, sitting across the kitchen table, a book always open before her. How she loved to read. How she loved to learn. When she neared the end of her days, her sight failed her and those books she loved to read were forever shelved.
Later, I excitedly told an American that I met the story of Baoom and the blind man at the pagoda, and that I felt for Baoom so much that I gave him $50 when we parted, more than 5 times the amount that was required.
Sounds like your friend might have known how to pull your strings, he said, grinning. ‘I see, said the blind man,’ was all I could think, hearing his cynical remark.
When Jesus smeared mud on the eyes of the blind man, the man went to the pool of Siloam to wash it off, and as he did so, he was able to see. And all these sophisticated men are gossiping and wondering if he's the same blind beggar they used to see at the gate of the town, and they ask him how he was able to see and he tells them about Jesus and the mud and the spit, and it’s clear that they are as cynical as my American friend was. Jesus? Really? And even if it is true, how dare he make a miracle on the Sabbath! And when the blind man points out to them that their questions reveal their own blindness--only God can make a blind man see--when he sheds light upon their darkness, they throw him out and call him, and Jesus, sinners.
I love the story. The sightless can see, and those with sight are blind. The Gospel story is really funny because it's all so obvious and fantastic and wonderful... and the brainy guys, the smart guys don't get it, they just can't see it, even though it's staring them right in the face. Sometimes it takes a poor simple man who drives a tuk tuk, who takes you to “moket”, or a shepherd like David in the first reading, to show the truth about life, and who we really are.
"I see, said the blind man," but in the case of the gospel blind man he didn't really see until the end of the story. Oh, he saw his hands, and the mud from his eyes floating in the waters of the pool of Siloam, he saw the sophisticated men who called him a sinner, but he didn't really see as a blind man ironically sees until the end of the story. He didn't 'see' until he saw the one who opened his eyes, he didn't truly gain his sight until he recognized Jesus for who he was. “Lord,” he called Jesus, "'Lord, I believe.'...And he worshipped him.
And the same is true for us. Most of us are walking through our lives blindly, and we don’t often see the truth of who we are to one another--Cambodia, Meiers Corners, follower of Buddha or of Jesus the Christ. We belong to one another as brothers and sisters, all of us poor at the very core of who we are. The miracle of sight is what Jesus gives to each one of us, but for the miracle to happen we need only to sit across from one another and open our hearts.
In a few minutes, we're going to come over to this dinner table, and we're going to put some of this wine out and some of this bread, and we're going to pray together over this food, and we're going to ask God to make it into something altogether different, the body and blood of Jesus, who makes blind men and women see. And you know what? God will do that, he will change wine into blood and bread into body and you and I will see it, even though to the sophisticated eye it will look exactly the same. It's not magic, it's sight, and our eyes will be opened if we recognize Jesus for who he is underneath it all: the Lord, the one who makes blind women and men see. During the consecration, when we pray over the bread and the wine, close your eyes for a moment, and when you open them again, pray you see the truth that God makes happen. There's an old saying, "seeing is believing" but in faith it's just the other way around, "believing is seeing".
There is truth to be seen, and it is all around us. It is in the eyes of a blind man in Cambodia or in the scarred face of a tuk tuk driver. It is in the cynical heart of an American tourist, but also in the frightened faces of children in Cambodia or Syria or Mexico or in the food court of the Staten Island Mall, "I see, said the blind man," which is not a bad way to spend our Lent, seeing with new eyes what we often try not to see. With Jesus, we can, if only we will.
An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.
7th Sunday A 2/19/17 Levi9; Cor3;Mt 5:38-48 SOS 9:15; HF 12:15 & 5pm J Mayzik SJ
For the past month I’ve been haunted by the conclusion of a very troubling and infamous court case—the trial of Dylan Roof, the 22 year old murderer of nine parishioners of an historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina. Roof, you may recall, walked into a bible study class on a Wednesday night, and was welcomed by the pastor and other members of the church. He sat down next to the minister, listened to the conversation about the love of Jesus, and when everyone began to pray, he stood up, pulled a gun from a fanny pack and aimed it at 87-year-old Susie Jackson. Jackson's nephew, 26-year-old Tywanza Sanders, tried to talk him down and asked him why he was attacking churchgoers. The shooter responded, "I have to do it. You rape our women and you're taking over our country. And you have to go." Sanders dove in front of his elderly aunt and was shot first. Shouting racial slurs and saying: "Y'all want something to pray about? I'll give you something to pray about," Roof went on to shoot eight other people.
Remarkably, the day after the shooting, a mother and daughter, a sister and grandson ---relatives of his victims-- spoke out and publicly forgave the murderer. And a year and a half later at his trial, others did the same. “I forgive you, and pray that God have mercy on you,” said one of them.
And despite those words of forgiveness and mercy, Dylan Roof said at his sentencing: "I would like to make it crystal clear, I do not regret what I did. I am not sorry. I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed."
To be honest, if my mother or brother or sister or friend had been one of those victims and I was sitting in that courtroom, I’m sure I would have wanted to leap over the aisle and taken that kid down, mercy and forgiveness be damned. Revenge is what I would seek. And that’s precisely why I have not been able to shake away my thoughts about this case.
I’ve never had to face such a terrible loss from such a hate-filled person. But I know what the feeling of revenge feels like because I’ve been hurt a bunch of times by complete strangers, by so-called friends, collaborators, co-workers, even fellow priests. I know, I know how it feels to want to strike back, let them feel what they have done to me. At times I’ve allowed myself to consider ways that I could hurt them back---in words or deeds. An eye for an eye, right? And these days it is so easy to strike back without physical weapons: why there’s facebook, snapchat, tumbler, instagram, twitter---so many ways to get social media revenge on the internet. You can spread the damage pretty quickly and deeply with a few choice stories or damning words.
We all have seen it used in the raging political battles of our day. Even the President resorts to such methods on the internet to exact “an eye for an eye” justice. I’ve seen the college students I teach resort to that kind of revenge against their peers and their professors.
One young man, smarting from being dumped by his girlfriend, suggested that he would say some pretty mean things about her on Twitter. “You don’t really want to do that,” I said, quietly. He was sitting there in front of me—a really bright kid, amazing student---but like a little kid, completely at the mercy of his emotions. He stopped talking for a minute, and then the tears started trickling down his cheeks, wordless, without a sound. I patted his back, tried to give him that moment to let it all out. And he did. It wasn’t just about the girl, but about so many other rejections he had felt, stored up, rejections that he had compiled as evidence that he was not loved or loveable. Going way back. Oh man…he was one hurting boy. We talked for a long time after the tears had stopped. So many hurts, and this one had been the final straw.
An eye for an eye, right? A tooth for a tooth, right?
But of course, there is this:
"But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.”
In Jesus’ day, if you were wronged by someone, you had to right to seek revenge and regain your honor by slapping them back-handed on the face. Jesus says, let him slap both sides of the face. In Jesus’s day, if you were wronged by someone, you were allowed to seek revenge by taking the cloak that served as their coat, and their sleeping bag. Jesus says, go naked and give him much more than the shirt off your back as well. In Jesus’ day, it was legal for a soldier of the occupying army to seek revenge by forcing a civilian to carry his heavy baggage for a mile. Jesus says, carry it for two miles.
Because for Jesus, it was never about revenge. It was always about forgiveness because it was always about love. You love the one who brutalizes you, who tortures you, who defames you, who has no mercy for you---because love and only love can truly transform a human heart. And if you want to follow Jesus, if you want to call yourself a Christian—one of Christ’s---then, my friend, you actually have no choice. Your life is always about love—real love for every human being that God has created.
But isn’t that ridiculous? Love that…that… thing, Dylan Roof?
Love the girl who dumped me? Love my unfaithful husband or wife? Love my daughter/son/brother/sister/parent/friend who hasn’t spoken to me in months, who has chosen money over family, who has betrayed me so many times? Love my co-worker who stabbed me in the back, love my neighbor who has been so nasty for years, love the thieves who stole my wallet or my pension, love those hateful Democrats, those hateful Republicans, love the rapist, the pedophile, the torturer, love the terrorists who murder innocent victims at Ground Zero, in Boston, in Paris, in Baghdad? I mean, come on, really, Jesus? Are we really meant to be doormats for evil people, should we just rollover and let them have their way? That’s just stupid.
Well yes, it is. But love is that important, and love is that powerful. And that’s why following Jesus is dangerous and totally foolish. “If any one among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God.”
How do you love as foolishly as that, like God, how do you love like God, and not like us? To tell you the truth, I don't know. I mean I know how, but I don't know how, you know what I mean? How is easy: like Jesus, love like Jesus, you fool. But how to love like Jesus, foolishly, I don't know how, and I don't do it very well.
When I was kid, my father thought I should learn how to defend myself against the bullies who may come my way, and I remember him giving me lessons about how to throw a punch, how to block an incoming blow, how a man fights back when he is attacked. Out there in the garage on a Saturday morning, my father trying to equip me against a world of bullies. He even got me boxing gloves, like I was Joe Louis or Muhammed Ali. And then the one time I actually was bullied around by this other kid in the neighborhood, I was creamed and came running home with tears streaming down my cheeks. So much for the boxing gloves.
Later on, when I was a little older, my father tried to teach me other ways to defend myself. One time, in our local candystore, he felt I got cheated by the owner who packed some ice cream for me in a carton. My father thought he packed a little too much air in the carton, and made me go back to the man to confront him with his deed. You can imagine how thrilled I was to do so, and when I did go back, the owner, who was actually a nice man, got indignant at the accusation. I never bought any ice cream in there again, for the sheer embarrassment of it
But I don't blame my father so much, the world does that to us, there are lots of bullies around, lots of people trying to take advantage, and you grow up with that, and your parents try to teach you how to survive, how to be careful, how not to get hurt. And that is a good thing that they teach you that, and you need to learn how to protect yourself. I learned it pretty well myself. And even today, when I have disputes with my fellow co-workers at school, I often figuratively put my dukes up—no one is going to take advantage of me. But it can become more than that, it can become hatred and sheer bitter cynicism, it can create complete mistrustfulness, and prejudice, it can tear our families and our neighborhoods and our nations and finally our world apart. In the end, it can and will leave us—completely and absolutely-- alone.
There are so many great examples of people who followed Jesus’ words:
Mahatma Gandhi, who had stirred up the passions of his Indian brothers and sisters at the injustice of the British, realized that an eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind, and he stopped eating to prevent the revenge he has started. Nelson Mandela recognized that the only way his nation would ever become one after the horror of apartheid was to embrace the enemy—even those who imprisoned him for 30 years. Pope John Paul went to the cell of his assassin and forgave him for shooting him on the square of St Peter’s. And closer to home, Steven McDonald, the New York City policeman--who was paralyzed and lived on a ventilator for life--forgave the 15 year old who shot him three times in Central Park. Civil rights activist Ann Atwater reached out many times to her former opponent Ku Klux Klan leader Clairborne Ellis and they became close friends. Eric Lomax traveled to Japan to find and kill his World War II Japanese torturer, but wound up forgiving and helping the repentant Nagese Takashi. And even my young friend, after our long meeting, called his parents and asked for forgiveness for being so selfish with them.
"Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect," says Jesus. Perfect in love, be perfect, like God the creator, who made people who hurt other people, love perfectly like God the creator, who looks down upon his creation and continues to love it even as it loves imperfectly. To love perfectly like that we've got to learn another lesson, perhaps unlearn what we've already been taught for our own good. The lesson is hanging up there on the cross. To love like Jesus loved, with your arms wide open to everyone who comes your way, even the bullies—especially the bullies. But the problem is, if s not cost-free, it’s a sure thing you'll get hurt. It comes with the territory. So why do it? Why be so foolish? Who wants to get hurt?
And the answer is… who wants to be alone?
What does it take to forgive someone like Dylann Roof? How does one muster the courage, the conviction, the moral fiber to grant such a gift to someone who has already taken so much? To serve a feast of forgiveness to a person who hasn’t even ordered a single serving?
Love is a powerful thing, perfect love is universe shattering-earsplitting, eye blinding, mindblowing, heart-breaking, and like the love of Jesus, it always brings us together, and that, in the end, is what we all really want. To be together, and not alone.
There is only one way: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.”
6th Sunday A Sir 15, Cor2, Mt5:17-27 2/12/17 HF 11:45 J Mayzik SJ Mem 3
Valentine's Day is coming up Tuesday, St. Valentine's Day. Valentine's Day, named after a Roman priest who lived about two hundred years after Jesus, who died on February 14th. The legend is that he used to send letters of love and encouragement to fellow priests who were being persecuted for what they believed, who were loving maybe a little too much in the way that Jesus loved. The way that Jesus loved brought many of them to torture and martyrdom death. In fact, St Valentine himself lost his life because he loved a little too much, like Jesus
I was in a The Christmas Tree Shop the other day, and I passed through an aisle that was filled with Valentine’s Day stuff—lots of candy, stuffed animals with red hearts, rows of Valentine’s cards. I stopped for a moment at this stuffed bear. It’s arms were open like this, and there was red writing stitched onto its white chest: “I love you THIS much!” For a moment I thought of buying it for someone, then looked at the price and thought, nahhhh. There were two young men right next to me, debating about a small stuffed dog. One of them was clearly buying for his girlfriend. “Dude,” his friend said, “you’re not even official yet. You don’t have to do that much. Just get her that one, and you’ll be golden.” I smiled. I guess there are minimum requirements for budding relationships on Valentine’s day.
The first girl that I “fell in love with” was in 7th grade, and I hoped she would be my first real girlfriend. I did stuff that I thought was romantic, but kids today would probably say it was creepy. I left her anonymous notes at school that included poems or lyrics from popular songs, and I wrote awkward sentences telling her how pretty she was, how smart, how funny. And finally I bicycled to her house with roses and candy—I spent a lot of money---and left them at her doorstep with a note revealing my identity as her secret admirer.
On the way home I saw my best friend and told him what I had done and he said I was crazy. And I was, of course. When you’re in love, you do crazy things, you go way overboard. For a while I thought I had a chance with Carole, but then I’d be tortured if I saw her hanging around other boys instead of me. And in the end I went down hard when she told me that she only wanted to be a friend. So Carole never did become my girlfriend, but weirdly, years later she married a minister.
When you are in love (or at least think you are), you usually go way beyond the requirements. You are excessively generous with your heart, your time, and sometimes with your wallet. You are always thinking about what you can do for the love of your life, putting his or her needs and desires ahead of your own.
I think there is something of that in the Gospel today, where Jesus refers to the Ten Commandments, and specifically the third, sixth, and seventh. He tells his friends that the commandments are really important, but he says that they are the minimum requirements, like getting the small stuffed dog for Valentines Day. It’s about love, excessively generous love of God, and love of our brothers and sisters, not just fulfilling the letter of the law. It is crazy love, way overboard. Of course you shouldn’t kill someone, but you shouldn’t even allow your heart to murder them with hateful thoughts, shout at them with anger and contempt, even when they cut you off on the BQE, or disagree with you over politics. Of course you shouldn’t steal, but rather you should share whatever you have with those who are more needy. Of course you shouldn’t be unfaithful to your husband or your wife, but rather you should love them and respect them and serve them as though they were the Lord Himself.
It’s about love, excessively generous love of God, and love of our brothers and sisters, not just fulfilling the letter of the law. This is what made following Jesus so inspiring and exciting, but also so dangerous. The world—and even the Church—offers laws that keep us inside the lines, that don’t demand that much of us. And if we follow them, well, we probably won’t find ourselves in jail, and we may even be seen as upstanding members of the community. But truthfully, we will not be bringing about the Kingdom of God.
There are some people who call themselves Christians, but if they do not love excessively and radically, I say they are not really following Him. And I include myself in that group. There are some people who say that America is a Christian nation. But if its people do not love excessively all species of life---human, plants and animals---from conception to development and to diminishment, if they do not nurture, respect and support the weakest and most vulnerable among all species, I say they are not really following Him. Paul says that following Jesus is crazy and that “it is not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age”, no matter what they say at a prayer breakfast or on Twitter.
One of my heroes was a Jesuit priest from India. His name was Anthony DeMello, and I was at a talk he gave just before he died. In the talk he said: "Your priests back in the parish are not going to be happy to hear this, but I believe that God would be much happier, according to Jesus Christ, if you were transformed into a loving person than if you followed all the rules and practices of the Church. If you become love, when you are transformed into love, then you have God.”
And he told a story about the wedding of a couple in Italy on St Valentine’s Day. They arranged with the parish priest to have a little reception after the wedding Mass in the parish courtyard, but it rained, and they asked if they could have the reception in the church itself, promising that it would be very low key and quiet. The priest reluctantly agreed, but the couple and their guests were a little too happy, they drank a little too much wine, and they made more noise than they promised. The priest got angry and threw everyone out. He told the couple that it was undignified and improper and that he never should have allowed it. And then a little girl came up to him and reminded him that Jesus loved to be at weddings and that he would probably have enjoyed being at this one. And the priest said "I know Jesus was present at a wedding banquet, YOU don't have to tell me Jesus Christ was present at a wedding banquet! But they didn't have the Blessed Sacrament there!"
Tony DeMello said that there are times like that when the Blessed Sacrament becomes more important than Jesus Christ, and when dignified, respectful worship becomes more important than love, when the letter of the law of the Church becomes more important than life, and when God becomes more important than our brothers and sisters.
It’s like all of our faith, it‘s like all our religion. It’s a matter of loving too much, in the way that Jesus loved. It sometimes seems like we've got a lot of rules and regulations that we Catholics are supposed to follow—coming to Church on Sunday, confession at least once a year, fast before communion, no meat on Fridays in Lent, and lots of time someone will come up to me and ask me if it’s OK to break one of them and change it around or exchange one for another, and you know, what I usually say to them is—what do you think?, because I can tell them what the rule is but if you're just concerned with the letter of the law, if it’s just a matter of making sure that God is going to be on your back about it, well then, what is that, what kind of love is that, what kind of faith is it, what kind of careful dance are you trying to do? Is it loving too much, in the way that Jesus loved, or is it not really loving much at all?
Listen, my brothers and sisters. These are tough days to love excessively, extravagantly. You and I know that hateful things are being said by many people these days, Republican and Democrat alike, liberal and conservative, and, yes, Christian and Muslim and Jew.
That is why it is so important to gather here this morning and to hear once again the challenge to love excessively and generously with your heart, your time, and sometimes with your wallet.
We are here so we might commit ourselves to be a gorgeous people of excessive, crazy love not hate, a people who dare to love even our enemies, to see the world not as our rulers do but as Jesus saw it, to see the widow and orphan, the strangers and sojourners through the immensity of God’s love and not through the narrowness of our little hearts.
We are here to take on the challenge of Jesus’s love so much that we actually give away what we have to the poor, we actually turn the other cheek to those who strike us, we actually try to love our enemies, even those we count in our families. We are here to do all that because our hearts are inspired to follow Him, as people have done for over 2000 years.
It is wild and crazy dangerous, and we may need the blessing of St Valentine to encourage us as we face the real possibility of being persecuted for what we truly believe, and dare to live. St Valentine, pray for us. Good Jesus, be with us in love.
Hearts on Fire
5th Sunday A 2/5/17 Is58;1Cor2;Mt 5:13-16HF: 9:15 & 10:45; SOS 1: JmayzikSJ
I have a friend who is a huge Pittsburgh Steelers fan, and he is mighty disappointed that he is not going to be watching his team compete today in the Super Bowl. When they were in the final four, he was convinced that they would prevail over the Falcons and the Packers to face the mighty Patriots and their star Tom Brady. If you spent just a little time with my friend, maybe a ½ hour, you would hear about the Steelers, and he would convince you that they would win the Super Bowl, guaranteed.
It doesn’t make sense that he is a Pittsburgh fan—he grew up in New Jersey---but I know his father hated almost all New York teams. My friend drank the Steelers Kool-Aid since he was a baby, and the identity defines him. He can recite every major player on the team over the last 50 years, he has all kinds of Steelers stuff in his house, and he even has a New Jersey vanity license plate that refers to the team. For years I’ve been kidding him about his obsession, and he recently sent me a picture of a headstone for his grave like the one he wants. Of course I told him it was ridiculous.
I suspect that there are people you know who have similar obsessions with the Jets or the Giants. I mean, I know quite a few such fans who live around here, and they too are not thrilled with today’s game participants, particularly the Boston team.
The Oxford dictionary and other sources define "fan" as a shortened version of the word fanatic. The word’s origin comes from the Latin word “fanum”, meaning temple, and someone who hung around a temple was a “fanaticus”: a zealous, mad person marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense, uncritical devotion. Winston Churchill famously said that a fanatic was “someone who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject”.
I was reading an article about people with fanatical passions. It listed some of their characteristics: 1) They start their days early, and almost always think positively. 2) They get more excited in general than the average person, and can’t help but talk about their passion because it is always on their minds. 3) They devote much of their time and energy to their passionate dreams. 4) They are willing to risk more and put more on the line for the sake of their passion. 5) They are not always great at balancing their lives, and sometimes run out of steam. 6) Their passion gives them meaning, and more importantly, it gives them happiness and delight: in other words, it gives them joy.
I generally like people who are totally into interesting things. I have a friend who is into belly-dancing. She practices it regularly, and has become an expert at it. have another friend who does extreme martial arts and goes to the gym almost every day to practice for meets. A couple I know make serious pilgrimages around the country to ride wild roller coasters. I know a priest who is a civil war re-enactor, and his character is of course a minister on the battlefield. He travels very far to be part of civil war battle reenactments. And we all know people who are really into other self-defining things like weightlifting or yoga or snapchatting or gardening or painting or skateboarding or woodworking or videogaming or cooking or mountain biking or politic-ing on the internet, or motorcycling or being huge fans of sports teams.
People with such passions or fanatic obsessions are often more colorful and noisier, they stand out from the crowd, make us look at the world with a different perspective, help us see the richness all around us. They also sometimes feel more ‘alive’, more engaged with life: their passions give them a purpose for life, make their lives more meaningful. It gives them a clear identity—which can be a good thing, but not always.
Sammy Davis Jr., the popular singer of another generation, had a signature song called “I Gotta Be Me”. The first lyrics of the song are:
Whether I'm right or whether I'm wrong
Whether I find a place in this world or never belong
I gotta be me, I've gotta be me
What else can I be but what I am
I gotta be free, I've gotta be free
Daring to try, to do it or die
I've gotta be me
The song has a similar theme to Frank Sinatra’s familiar “My Way”:
And now, the end is near;
And so I face the final curtain.
My friend, I'll say it clear,
I'll state my case, of which I'm certain
.To think I did all that;
And may I say - not in a shy way,
"Oh no, oh no not me,
I did it my way".
Both songs allude to men of passion, men who stood out and took some risks in their lives to do what they had to do. Both songs can sound a little egotistical and perhaps a bit self-pitying.
I read that Frank Sinatra actually sometimes hated singing that song which had done so much for his later career. According to Shirley MacLaine and other friends of “Ol’ Blue Eyes” it was difficult for Sinatra to sing a pretentious anthem in celebration of himself. His friends insist that Sinatra was a genuinely humble man who never took his own success for granted.
When Jesus began his ministry, he gathered followers to his side, and explained to them how different the world could be. That was last week’s Beatitudes. Blessed are the poor, the meek, the peacemakers, the merciful, the pure of heart. It was a very radical way of looking at the world (and by the way, it still is.) But it set the hearts of his followers on fire, it gave them a new passion for living, it gave new meaning to their lives. But how could they possibly spread this message? How could they possibly effect it a world that--like our own--says much the opposite? Well, Jesus, said, you can’t be shy about it, you have to sing it out. And for it to be authentic, you have to be you, you’ve got to do it your way. You have to be passionate, and perhaps a bit of a fanatic, but without ego or narcissism. It requires the humility of someone who knows the real source of their joy---a God who loves you from life to death. You have to be like salt that humbly brings the flavor out of the meat, like light, that humbly reveals the truth that is right before our eyes.
Salt and light. You know, when Jesus was walking this earth, salt was one of those universals—everything was better to eat with a little more salt, tasteless without, but more importantly, nothing could be preserved without salt. Just a little pinch of salt kept things from spoiling, rotting, corrupting. Salt even purified.
And as with salt, so too with light. In Jesus' time, there was no Con Edison, no switches to turn light on and off like water. They just had these oil lamps which gave off only a little light—but which made the night less frightening, the dark more friendly, and enabled men and women to finish more of the things their hard lives required of them after the sun went down.
There was never enough light and never enough salt, and both were precious and indispensable to the lives of people when Jesus walked the earth. So when Jesus told his disciples, "You are the salt of the earth", and "You are the light of the world", he was talking about something very precious and very important, in service of life itself. It was the mission of all missions for fanatics who were zealous to bring the world real joy. Be yourselves, he said, be colorful and noisy in your joy, be unafraid to shed light on the world, show the world a different perspective, help everyone to see God’s love all around us.
But it wasn’t just for those early disciples. It is meant to be our passion as well. You and I, through the gift of His love, are like salt: meant to improve the quality of human living, change what we touch, preserve from devastation this God-shaped, dreadfully scarred earth. And we are like light: the gift of love we have from Him is meant to stand out like a lamp on a stand, shine on like the light of the silvery moon, reveal oppression and hunger and the face of the afflicted so that justice can be accomplished. Our task, as Jesus' disciples, is to be an overabundance of salt and light, to bring a fresh flavor to the world in which we live and breathe, to shine like Bethlehem's star for our brothers and sisters who are searching for something—someone—that makes life more human, that makes each day a day worth living.
In Isaiah's words: "share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless, clothe the naked when you see them, do not turn your back on your own, remove from your midst oppression, and satisfied the afflicted".
Be, in other words, in Jesus' words, salt and light for your brothers and sisters, for those sitting beside you, those back home in your families, those with whom you work and play, for the stranger you meet wherever you go. Be a fanatic for Christ. How much more wonderful could that be for the world than for the Steelers or the Patriots or the Jets or the Giants? Be zealous and excessive with God’s love. And when the end is near and you face the final curtain, how much more wonderful will we all be that you did it… His way?
The Flesh of Christ
4th Sunday A 1/29/17 Zeph2; 1Cor1:26; Mt5:1-12 HF 12:15; SOS: 7pmJMayzik SJ
I just came back from the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, a few miles from Salt Lake City. As a filmmaker, I really enjoy the chance to see some awesome movies which will be in theaters in the next year, and to network with other filmmakers. And there’s the added advantage of literally bumping into movie stars like Robert Redford, Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe, Madmen’s Jon Hamm, Jack Black, Shirley McLaine, Lisa Kudrow from Friends, and Kevin Bacon. There is a lot of fame and glamour at Sundance, limos and expensive cars, elegantly dressed somebodies, and industry powerbrokers. But to tell you the truth I was more interested in the fact that we had several great snowstorms, and I love snow!
As I was flying home out of Salt Lake City, I looked down at the landscape beneath our plane. The city is surrounded on three sides by beautiful, snow-covered mountains, and low flatlands on the fourth side lead to the great Salt Lake. Getting that big perspective from on high, I could see why Brigham Young and his refugee Mormons migrated from the east coast and chose this place as a sanctuary for religious and political freedom. It was remote, protected by the mountains, but it also had fertile land to grow their own food for their survival. And when they saw the great Salt Lake, it reminded them of the Dead Sea of the Holy Land, on whose shores Jesus preached to so many people. The Mormons saw their new city as the new “promised land” where they could live faithfully as a community of followers of Jesus.
One of the most powerful films I saw at the festival was a documentary called Last Men in Aleppo. It was about three men who are members of the White Helmets, a group of volunteers (with white helmets) who risk their lives every day in the Syrian city of Aleppo and other cities under siege in that country. They rescue families who have been buried under tons of debris from barrel bombs and missiles that have been shot and dropped from Russian jets and drones in support of the government of Syria. The camera crews making the movie were embedded with them, jumping into their trucks as they rushed to the site of the latest bombing. The scenes were sometimes pretty horrifying as the White Helmets dug through the rubble and wreckage to retrieve dead babies, crushed human remains and body parts. At one point in the film one of the rescuers uncovers a foot, and they try to determine if it is from a woman or a man. You could see all the toes and the heel, ending with a small part of the ankle.
But thankfully, the White Helmets also saved many who were still alive under huge chunks of concrete and metal of the collapsed buildings. And all the while they had to keep watch on the skies above, because oftentimes the drones or the planes would come back in what is called a “double tap” to purposely kill these selfless rescuers while they were in the act of trying to save the victims of the initial attack. Dozens of White Helmet members have been killed in such moments.
It was hard not to shed a few tears watching the movie, and hard not to feel compassion for the innocent families who are caught in the devastation of the war in Syria. And of course it makes you wonder about our duty, the world’s duty to take care of those who flee for their lives from that wreck of a country. I was reminded of Pope Francis’ words: “Let us not forget that the flesh of Christ is in the flesh of the refugees: their flesh is the flesh of Christ.”
As we flew over the great Salt Lake, I looked down at the shore and the nearby foothills, and perhaps like Brigham Young, I imagined Jesus sitting on large rock and speaking to a crowd of people who were attentive to his every word. And behind him, in the steep cliffs of the rising mountains, I imagined the black holes of hundreds of caves, with no good way to get to them except by climbing straight up the cliffs. In Jesus’ time, it was in those caves that the militant Jewish Zealots found refuge in their bloody fight against the powers of their day, seeking power and prestige and riches. Within those caves they slept, ate, planned their attacks, and built their weapons. From where Jesus and his followers sat, they could hear the sounds of blacksmiths hammering metal into razor-sharp daggers and swords.
But further down the hill, Jesus spoke of a completely different approach. It wasn’t about weapons, and power, and force. His face was filled with light, his eyes revealed an inner peace, his body an expression of acceptance and compassion. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Blessed are those who mourn…blessed are the meek…blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…blessed are the merciful, and the clean of heart, and the persecuted. And blessed, especially, are the peacemakers…for their reward will be great in heaven.
But somewhere in a remote cave of dimly lit, air-conditioned trailers, drone Zealotsstare at glowing video and data screens. They toggle their joysticks that control armed drones flying right above the desperate group of wannabe refugees listening to the small man sitting on a hill of rubble. Nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. All of them, sitting ducks.
COMMANDER: Cleared to engage. Target the man, and the crowd.
PILOT: Weapon systems on
COMMANDER: Arm weapon
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
PILOT: Ready on the Blue missile
PILOT: Three, two,one. Rifle, rifle, rifle. Weapon away. Time of flight, 50 seconds.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
COMMANDER: Target is captured. The small man is down. His followers are extinguished. Mission is accomplished. Well done, Lieutenant.
PILOT: Thank you, sir.
Rejoice and be glad,
for your reward will be great in heaven.
To most of the world, the words on the hillside were a joke. To be rich, you must be poor? To be powerful, you must be powerless? To be filled, you must hunger and thirst? To be wise is to be dumb? To be satisfied, you need nothing at all, except for Him? Really? It goes against all common sense. Who really wants to be poor? Who wants to be last instead of first? Who wants to suffer pain over pleasure? And everyone knows that might clearly is more rewarding than right. Isn’t it true that the real blessing is when you are strong, wealthy, safe and great?
But my heart keeps going back to the images of those men in Aleppo. We watched as one young man pulled two lifeless babies out of the debris of what was once an apartment house, tears streaming down his face. He looked exhausted, and despairing. And then from somewhere deep in the wreckage, he heard a faint cry. He immediately leapt to the task, hoisting heavy chunks of concrete blocking the path, digging through the mounds of debris with his bare hands with newfound energy and hope. And under a huge obstacle, he uncovered a little boy, about 6 years old. With the help of his companions, he pulled his body and his legs free, and though he was bleeding from his head and arm, he was alive and well. Several weeks later, he returned to visit the boy and what was left of his family. They were in a relative’s home. The boy was well, he was smiling, and he was all over the young man. “You saved me, right? Tell me how you saved me.” His savior looked embarrassed at the attention, humble about his role in saving the little boy. “We all helped. Praise God.” Throughout the visit, the little boy followed him everywhere he went. And when it was time to go, he pleaded with him to stay. “I can’t visit these families, afterwards” he said to a companion. “It’s too difficult.” Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
The famous philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche believed that the beatitudes were a path to slavery, a threat to success as a human being. But being a Christian is about living for the real kingdom, the one that lives in here, not out there. Being a Christian is believing that the greatest power in the universe is the power of love, which is always patient and kind, never jealous or boastful or narcissistic or proud. The love that Christ offers us is never angry, doesn’t ridicule others, does not harbor deep resentments, never seeks to be first, but always desires to serve. That love seeks the truth, and always hopes, trusts and perseveres.
Read, finally, the words from St Paul:
God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise,
and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong,
and God chose the lowly and despised of the world,
those who count for nothing,
to reduce to nothing those who are something,
so that no human being might boast before God.
Dream baby, dream.
Second Sunday A 1/15/17 Is49,1Cor1,Jn1:29-34 HF: 9:15; SOS:12 noon J Mayzik SJ
I’ve been to the movie theaters several times now to see La La Land. What can I say? It has captured my heart, certainly because it is (in part) about the art of filmmaking--which I love and have been involved with for over 30 years. I’ve worked on dozens of films over that time, and I have taught hundreds of students how to use the medium to express—with creativity and emotion---the joy, the pain and the hope that lives within their souls.
But La La Land is about much more than the movie business. It’s about the human yearning to dream of impossibly wonderful things in your life. The two main characters in the movie dream of using their gifts in music and acting to touch the world. And the story is about how difficult it can be to achieve the dream, and the costs it demands of both of them.
It’s a musical, and the music in the movie is, as intended, lovely and memorable. And I’ve caught myself humming and singing the lyrics of one of its great songs, which is called The Fools Who Dream. “So bring on the rebels, the ripples from pebbles, the painters, and poets and plays. Here’s to the ones who dream, crazy as they may seem. Here’s to the hearts that ache, here’s to the mess that we make.”
The dream. When I was little, I would sometimes leave my playmates outside and retreat to my bedroom to listen to music that I loved. At that age I didn’t know why exactly the music mattered to me so much. But I would play some songs over and over again because I guess they inspired me to dream. Songs from the Beatles, Cat Stevens, Dylan. But I was also very touched by the music of some plays. One favorite was from Man of La Mancha: To Dream the Impossible Dream. It inspired me to want to do important things in my life: to right the unrightable wrong, to fight for the right without question or pause, to be willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause.
And the music pointed me towards real people who seemed to be doing all of that with their lives: Lincoln and Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Albert Schweizer, Helen Keller, Martin Luther King. They all had dreams of doing something impossibly wonderful in the world, and I guess I hoped to the same thing with my own life in some way.
I think we all dream of wonderful things, don’t we? Maybe our songs reveal how universal those desires really are. I went online and looked up songs with the theme of dreams, and I found hundreds of them: songs by Green Day, Ray Orbison, John Lennon, Beyonce, Elvis Presley, Eurythmics, the Everly Brothers, Mariah Carey, Katy Perry, Drake White, Hall and Oates, Beck, Mama Cass, Phish, Kenny Rogers Bruce Springsteen. Of course many songs speak of the dream of loving and being loved by someone. But so many actually point to the yearning for something more idealistic, to do something with your life that is selfless, to help make the world better for all.
Billy Joel sings of the River of Dreams.
John Lennon’s famous lines: “Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can; No need for greed or hunger, A brotherhood of man; Imagine all the people, Sharing all the world... You may say I'm a dreamer, But I'm not the only one…”.
And Springsteen, the Boss: “Come on and open your heart…come on, dream on, dream baby dream”.
Isaiah had a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places made plain, and the crooked places made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed. God will make you a light to all nations, he said, that his salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.
John the Baptist saw the dream of his life appear in the flesh before his eyes, and he couldn’t help but sing out to what he saw: “Behold the Lamb of God!”
God’s entrance into human history wasn’t sung by an angel, but by a dirty, smelly, unattractive crackpot who ate bugs with a touch of honey to help them go down without vomiting. "I baptize you with water, but One more powerful than I has come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
Behold, baby, dream baby dream, the Lamb of God.
When the Lamb of God came walking by, all of humanity finally had the answer to that dream of a song in our hearts. The Lamb of God was the dream that mattered more than anything else in life. And when they saw the dream walking by in the flesh, well, those who had courage followed their hearts and followed Him. They walked with him and learned from him as he embraced the poor, the broken, the outcast, and the sinners. The hearts of his followers were opened as he gathered those who were lost, those who were embittered and hate-filled, those who hurt others, those who were unloved or had forgotten how to love, and maybe especially those who couldn’t dream anymore. And dreams came true in the flesh: people were healed, bodies were raised from the dead, love trumped hate, and new dreams were born.
Martin Luther King had a dream “that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal’”.
He had a dream that “one day little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls” and walk together as sisters and brothers.
Mother Theresa said that “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love…and at the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done…We will be judged by “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.”
Pope Francis asked a crowd of a million young people in Poland this summer, “Are you capable of dreaming?” “Yes,” they responded with great enthusiasm.
Francis continued: “Some say to me that dreaming big is tough…’I fall down so often when I try.’ Well then, if you fall, look up a bit and you’ll see God’s outstretched hand. He is telling you: get up and come with me.”
“And so we ask the Lord to launch us on the adventure of building bridges and tearing down walls, barriers and barbed wire. Launch us on the adventure of helping the poor, those who feel lonely and abandoned, or no longer find meaning in their lives. Send us to listen attentively to those we do not understand, even those we are afraid of because we consider them a threat. And make us attentive to our elders, in order to learn from their wisdom.”
Do we see the real dream of John the Baptist? Do we want to live the dream of the Lamb of God?
That dream is made real by the way in which we live it out with the unnamed saints and sinners we encounter every day, on street corners, in supermarkets, in our own homes, and on the express bus and the subway.
It is found in every moment when we have the courage to live our faith with our brothers and sisters who are suffering all around us, when we have the courage to match our hope with others despair:
when we choose to reach out to those who don’t like us or who reject us,
when we choose to listen with love, heal with love, empower with love, forgive with love,
and when we choose to make the dream come true for others before pursuing our own dreams.
The human yearning to dream of impossibly beautiful things for your life and for the world: it’s not just in La La Land. It’s in all of us. It’s the dream that the Lamb of God came to make come true for all of us.
And so let us follow the dream, together and today.
Dream baby dream
Dream baby dream
Dream baby dream
Come on and dream baby dream
Come on and dream baby dream
We gotta keep the light burning
Come on, we gotta keep the light burning
Come on, we gotta keep the light burning
Come on, we gotta keep the light burning
Come on and dream baby dream
We gotta keep the fire burning
Come on, we gotta keep the fire burning
Come on, we gotta keep the fire burning
Come on and dream baby dream
Come open up your heart
Come on and open up your heart
Come on and open up your heart
Come on dream on, dream baby dream
Come on and open up your heart
Come on and open up your hearts
Come on and open up your hearts
Come on dream on, dream baby dream
Come on, we gotta keep on dreaming
Come on, we gotta keep on dreaming
Come on, we gotta keep on dreaming
Come on dream on, dream baby dream
Come on darling and dry your eyes
Come on baby and dry your eyes
Come on baby and dry your eyes
Come on dream on, dream baby dream
Yeah I just wanna see you smile
Now I just wanna see you smile
Yeah I just wanna see you smile
Come on dream on, dream baby dream
Come on and open up your hearts
Come on and open up your hearts
Come on and open up your hearts
Come on dream on, dream baby dream
Yeah I just wanna see you smile
And I just wanna see you smile
Yeah I just wanna see you smile
Come on dream on, dream baby dream
Yeah I just wanna see you smile
Yeah I just wanna see you smile
Yeah I just wanna see you smile
Come on dream on, dream baby dream
Come on and open up your heart
Come on and open up your heart
Come on and open up your heart
Come on dream on, dream baby dream
Come on dream on, dream on baby
Come on dream on, dream on baby
Come on dream on, dream on baby
Come on dream on, dream baby dream
The Wise Guys
Feast of the Epiphany 1/8/17 HF 12:15 & 5pm; SOS 7pmJmayzik SJ
The feast of the Epiphany, Little Christmas the 12th day of Christmas. Epiphany means “the introduction”, “the unveiling” “the announcement”. It’s the day when the three magi—Balthazar, who is traditionally the younger one, and dark skinned; Melchior, the middle aged one and maybe a little overweight, and Gaspar, the eldest, with a long white beard—the three kings, the thee wise men arrive at the manger, and discover the baby under the star they have been following. They were not Jews like Mary and Joseph and Jesus, and so on Epiphany they are literally guests at the ‘world premiere’ of Jesus as savior to the whole world. And they become the first ones to tell the rest of the world the amazing thing that has happened in this birth.
It’s Epiphany, and unfortunately most of us don’t celebrate this day much. We’ve forgotten what happened on this day, one of the most important moments of the whole Christmas story. I mean, right now, all throughout the land, the Christmas trees are out at the curb, awaiting the Sanitation Department pickup, or they are already back in their boxes in the attic or the garage. It’s already Valentine’s day in the stores, and well, we’ve moved on to a new sales event.
In one particular house not too far from here, just off of Victory Boulevard/Amboy Road, Christmas had been over since December 26th, and why not? The tree and the trimmings had been up almost as long as at Macy’s, since just around Thanksgiving, and everyone in that house had their fill of Christmas. On the 26th, the tree was already disassembled into bundles of wiry branches and put into its special year-round storage case, the LED icicle lights were removed from the eves of the house and the Star Shower laser light projector was returned to its box. The mechanical Santa and Mrs Claus—the ones that were in the big picture window and whose arms moved left to right waving at everyone who passed by, they were back in their plastic bags, their electric cords neatly coiled and taped. The three Wise Guys—ok, to be more respectful, the Wise Men---from the manger scene that had been beautifully displayed on the table where you entered the house…they were wrapped in old newpapers and boxed separately from the rest of the set because there wasn’t enough room in the box with all the sheep and the camels and the shepherds and of course Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus.
As I said, it was the day after Christmas—the 26th—and it was all over, and so the family left it all behind, turning down the heat, locking all the doors, setting the alarm, as they headed off to a much-needed family vacation on warm, sunny Florida beaches. With the last sounds of the garage door closing, a car starting and then the fading engine of the car as they drove off, the house grew silent and still in its emptiness. It was quiet except in one far corner of the attic, next to the beach chairs and garden hoses, where from somewhere within a large box, small muffled voices and the crackling of newspapers could be heard.
“Hey…hey!!!!! Anybody hear me?” came one high-pitched voice. “Yeah, I’m over here,” said another. “Can’t get this stuff off..” said a third voice. The box that sat in the dark corner of the attic was moving ever so slightly. Then another voice: ”Got it…YESSSSS!”, and the sounds of newspapers tearing, a few grunts and groans, and within moments the box had flipped on its side and the lid opened up. Out tumbled three disheveled Wise Guys, umm, Wise Men, all of them looking as though they had been tumbling in a clothes dryer, their hair all askew, their robes bunched in strange ways and cock-eyed. “Geezzz!”, shouted one. “Woohhoooo!” said another. The third one sat there, hands outstretched, feeling in the dark for his lost slipper. The other two straightened their hair, their crowns, their clothing.
“Where the heck are we?”, said the older one with a big white beard. “I have no idea whatsoever. I can’t see anything”, said the middle aged, fatter one. “I’m starving,” said the handsome, dark-skinned younger one, who had found his shoe. “All I remember is suddenly being grabbed from behind, wrapped in that paper, and shoved into that stuffy box. Didn’t they know who we are? What kind of way is that to treat a king? It was humiliating,” said the fat one. “Maybe it was Herod’s men. I told you we shouldn’t trust him”, replied his hungry companion. “You guys have anything to eat?”
“Ah pipe down, You’re always hungry,” said the older one. “Well actually, I could use a little something myself,” said the heavy one, not surprisingly. The older one took the lead and felt around and took an optical instrument out of his satchel and starting looking in every direction with it, trying to get his bearings. It was very dark in the attic even though it was midday, and you couldn’t see the hand in front of your face. Suddenly he shouted out, “Ahhhhaaaa…score!!! I think I found something.” There was a light, a very tiny light, a pinhole of a light streaming down into the blackness. It was way over on the other side of the huge, cluttered attic. “By my calculations, it’s about 10 days away,” he said. “Well, we better get some food before then,” said the other two almost simultaneously. “What’s the rumpus?” said the astronomer. “Food can wait. Don’t forget what we started out on this journey to find,” and he continued to remind them about their mission, and their destination.
So they set out, carrying their packages, guided by the light coming from the pinhole at the far end of the attic. It was an arduous journey, with many obstacles. There were boxes of clothing to maneuver around, stacks of old vinyl records, mountains of worn plastic toys, bags of clothing, old lamps, pots and pans, books everywhere. They could have easily fallen into many holes that were in the flooring, falling through the ceiling into the rooms below. At one point they saw the shadowy figure of a mouse go running across a beam above, and they all immediately stood completely still, like statues. Mice are scary, even for such royal leaders. As the journey progressed, the light would appear and disappear, almost like clockwork, and when it would disappear for a while, they would rest.
Finally, on the twelfth day after Christmas, the tenth day of a Florida vacation, they arrived to the place just below where the light shone down. There was a large cardboard Amazon box under the light. Two of them were able to scale the side and climb on top, and they both worked together to pull the heavy one up. They opened one of the flaps, and suddenly they all tumbled down down down into the darkness, bouncing off a roof of straw, right to the front door of a little stable. The light from the sky shone down through the opening of the box, and rested upon a baby asleep in a manger. All around there were shepherds and stableboys and cows and sheep, and a husband and a wife, obviously the mother and the father. The woman smiled at the three of them, who all looked a little goofy because their crowns were tilted and their robes were coming off their shoulders. They smiled back at her a little embarrassed and sheepishly. And then the fat one remembered. “We have something for him,” he said, gesturing towards the child. He reached inside his coat and took out a beautiful container, which was surprisingly not broken from the fall. The other two did the same, revealing their own gifts. They knelt before the little boy, who was illuminated by the light from above, and each and every one of them began to blubber like a baby. The woman and her husband held one another and smiled at the sight. The shepherds smiled and laughed a bit and even the sheep baaa-ed and the cows moo-ed at the sight of these three, dirty, hungry, disheveled men with tears streaming down their faces kneeling before the child.
They hung out there, with the amazing baby and his parents for a few days…or at least through several cycles of the light which shone into the box. They took turns holding the baby, and even did some chores while they were there: milked the cows, swept the hay, assisted a few of the shepherds with the sheep.
One morning they woke up to the sound of an arriving car, squeals of children, some bickering about from adult voices about the bill for the EZ pass. The three Wise Guys looked at one another: Herod’s men, no doubt. The Florida vacation was over, and it was time for the visitors to return home. They kissed the baby and his mother. They even kissed the father—it’s a custom and OK for men to do that where they come from---and then they began the long journey back via a different route. They were deeply worried about wild mice. They went past an old vacuum cleaner, a bunch of dolls and scary-looking stuffed animals, and around a graveyard of VCRs, Macintosh computers, flip phones, floppy drives, 8 track cassettes and Sega video consoles.
To finish their mission, they realized they needed to let the whole world know who they had found under the light from the sky. It was the younger one, of course, who figured out a way to send a message through an old Apple II computer in the junk pile, telling everyone that a new king had been born. It went viral all over the internet, on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram.
When they were satisfied that their mission had been accomplished, they found their way back across to the other side of the attic, got back into their own special box, and nestled themselves into the wrapping. Convinced that they had completed their journey once again, and that the new year could begin anew with the Good News of a newborn king who would bring peace, justice and love to a weary world, they settled in for a nice, twelve month rest
And hopefully we have received their message on this Epiphany Sunday, that the world is once again renewed with a new king to lead us to the truth about who we are and who we are meant to be. We will be moving on, of course. It is already the second week of January, and Valentine’s day does indeed beckon. But we can’t just bury our Christmas wise men in the attic. We need to remember what this season was all about, how we are given anew the chance to follow our Savior by loving one another with more than a holiday season’s good will. Next week, we will encounter Jesus suddenly all grown up, when he has his own epiphany at the River Jordan, a world premiere as the beloved Son in whom God’s favor rests. We look forward to joining him on the journey that will ultimately bring the world to triumph over death itself.
Ransomed from worst case scenarios.
Mary, Mother of God 1/1/17 Num6;Gal4;Lk2:16-21 HF10:45 SOS 7pmJ MayzikSJ
I welcomed the New Year last night in Norwich, New York, a small town near Binghamton where my sister and her family have a house. It was not a wild party by any means. Two of my nieces had departed earlier for Manhattan, to be there in time for not one, but several parties they would attend to mark the arrival of 2017.
As we neared the countdown last night, I tried to recall the first time I consciously celebrated the occasion. I was probably 5 years old. I think I begged my mama to wake me up at midnight, so that I could celebrate it with her and my dad and my sister who was 9 at the time. She did so as promised, gently kissing me multiple times until Mr Sandman reluctantly departed, and then ushering me into the living room where the TV had its cameras aimed at the ball in Times Square. On the coffee table there were a variety of pots and pans from the kitchen, and several large ladles and spoons. I wondered if we were going to cook something in the living room. As the announcer’s voice grew more excited and was almost drowned out by the growing noise of the crowd, my mother drew closer to me and explained what we were to do when the New Year came. When the ball reached its destination at the bottom of that pole, we opened up the windows, and as the cold January air rushed in, we took a pot or pan and banged it loudly with the ladle, yelling as loud as we could, “Happy New Year, Happpppppy New Year, Happy New Year!” bang bang bang bang bang, “Happpppppy New Year.” Behind us on the TV, Guy Lombardo and his orchestra played Auld Lang Syne, and my mother and father and sisterhugged and kissed me, wishing me a Happy New Year as we wished the whole world the same with the music of our pots and pans.
I was wondering how they did it in Jesus’s time. As a Jewish family, they undoubtedly celebrated Rosh Hashanah—probably in the fall, at the end of the harvest time--and they would eat honey to start the year off sweetly, and fish heads (or gefilte fish) so that they would finish the year ‘ahead’. And I can imagine Mary bending down to whisper in Jesus’ ear an explanation of how they would always blow the Shofar, a loud instrument made out of a ram’s horn, to welcome the new year with joyful music. Maybe Mary got Joseph to show little 5 year old Jesus how to put his lips to the shofar and attempt to make it sing out into the cool midnight air, toot, toot, toot, toot, toot, Happppppppy New Year, everyone, Happppppy New year!
Back home in my sister’s guest room after our 2017 celebration, I picked up a book someone had given me for Christmas—it’s called The Worst Case Scenario. It’s one of those humorous books that are at the counter at the bookstore, tempting you to buy it as a stocking stuffer. This book tells you what you need to do to survive dire situations, like an alligator attack, or falling through a sidewalk grate, getting your tongue stuck to a frozen pole, or giving birth to a baby in a taxi. It had lots of good tips---Ireally enjoyed reading about how to leap from a moving motorcycle to a car, and how to remove a wad of paper that gets stuck in your child’s nose. There was one that would have really helped me earlier this year: how to unclog a toilet you just used while visiting in someone's house...without a plunger anywhere in sight. But even though I enjoyed reading all these disaster scenarios, I thought maybe that’s not the most positive way to begin the new year, thinking about potential disasters.
When I got a little older, my New Year's Eve celebrations often brought tears to my eyes. I'd hear the chorus sing, May old acquaintance be forgot, in days of auld lang syne, and even though I didn't have the slightest idea what those words meant, there was something sad about letting go of a past that I knew, and something a little scary about facing the uncertainties of the future yet to be.
But then, inevitably, old Guy and the Canadians Royal would launch into another tune from ancient times--Happy Days Are Here Again--and I suppose it was meant to make us all feel better about our loss, which, I must admit, it did help me to do that. I listened to the bouncy beat of the Democrats one-time official campaign song, and began to imagine all the wild possibilities of a new year, the chance to start over again, to start fresh, to leave behind all the failures and mistakes of the past, all the bad moments, all the sad moments, a new year that had to be happier and healthier and maybe wealthier. Happy days are here again, the song promised, and so did a new year. Banging in the new year with pots and pans, the cold night air in my face, the stars glimmering through the clear January sky, I'd imagine the great things I'd do this year, free of the baggage of the past. During a good chunk of my life it involved school, and so I'd be dreaming about happier grades and higher honors, great successes in standardized tests and extracurricular competitions, unlimited acceptance letters from the best colleges in the nation. But I'd also be thinking about the whole future in front of me, eternal time to someone young, and I had no doubt that I'd do great things for the country and the world. Inventions, adventures, great creative works, leadership roles that would inspire, who knows, perhaps even President, or a great movie star, or a rock and roll legend. Anything was possible in the new year, in happy days, and suddenly all the sadness of the year's loss was forgotten.
The mix of sadness and promise, that's what comes with a new year, with the birth of anything. Any first-time mother or father here can testify to that mixed feeling: newborn baby come into their lives, and a phase of their life is over. When that first baby is born, life is forever changed, but a new life of family is born for everyone. The sadness and promise all mixed together is so true for the birth of a baby. No wonder then, that every New Year's Eve is symbolized by an old man and a baby side by side.
How fitting, then, to celebrate this New Year's Day in the church with attention to Mary, the mother of the newborn baby whom the shepherds felt drawn to be near.
Of course the shepherds came--who knew more than anyone the hardships and promises of life than the simple men who fed the lambs and watched over the sheep?
It tells us in the Gospel that his parents gave him the name the angel suggested, Jesus, which means Savior, and for Mary especially, the child she gave birth to was to be both savior and sacrifice, a mixed blessing of sadness and promise. It says that Mary "treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart", and doubtless she looked upon her child Jesus Savior, under the shimmering stars and the cold night air, and dreamed about the great things he might do, all the while knowing--fearing--what might happen to him in the process.
The night of his birth was the end of one time and the beginning of another, it was the great divide between the old and the new, and it was a night that was truly the beginning of happy days for everyone.
But the only one who really understood this incredible truth--its pain and its joy--was the little 14 year old young woman who said, simply, "yes" to the most unbelievable invitation the universe has ever known. Mary, to be known ever after as the Mother of God, was there from the beginning of time, the new year with all its real promise happened for all of us because of her incredible faith and courage. And so we honor her again, this day, as the baby of our dreams, sleeps in her lovely arms.
And for us, another year together as family, a holy family indeed. Worst case scenarios--stuck in quicksand, face to face with a bear, parachute problems, dealing with a mob of kangaroos—we will survive them all in this new year, facing them with the courage of Mary and the sure knowledge that Jesus, her son, has ransomed us from the most dire of circumstances.
For auld lang syne my dear,
For auld lang syne,
May auld aquaintance be forgot,
For days of auld lang syne.
NEW YEAR'S BLESSING
The Lord bless you and keep you!
The Lord let his face shine upon you,
and be gracious to you!
The Lord look upon you kindly
Father Michael's Last Christmas Mass.
Christmas 2016 Homily HF: 4pm & 6pm 12/24; SOS 12 noon 12/25
PLAY THE MUSIC BELOW when you read the story.
It was Christmas Eve, it was snowing off and on all day, winter darkness had already descended on this part of the world, but there were still many more deliveries to make. There were Christmas cards; last minute advertisements and coupons from Shoprite and Macy’s and Walmart; packages of fruit; gifts from grandma and Aunt Marie. It was not easy working for the postal service, particularly at Christmas, but Laura liked the job, and everyone on her route was grateful that she was the one who delivered their mail.
The deliveries to the rich part of town were done. It was actually easier there, but not necessarily as rewarding. The mailboxes were outside the gates, close to the road, and she rarely got to see or talk to them. But now she was delivering to the ‘other side of the tracks’: trudging up the crumbling porches of houses in need of a paint job, often meeting the people who worked the night shift, those who were homebound, the mothers at home with their babies, or the elderly who were waiting for their checks and the human contact of the mailman. Laura could relate, their lives were challenging, just like her own.
On the next street over was Holy Angels Church, and Father Michael was making his way from the old rectory towards the little chapel behind the big church. It was his 79th Christmas on earth, and it was a particularly difficult one for him. Holy Angels had been closed for over a month now, and Father Michael had been retired along with the church. The world was changing. Back in the day it had been one of the largest and busiest parishes around, but gradually, as the years unfolded, fewer and fewer people had time for or interest in what it had to offer. There were other things to do on Sundays than attend Mass: for the kids, basketball and soccer games, ballet classes, playdates; for the adults, chores that didn’t get done during the week, trips to the beauty parlor, Home Depot, Costco. Of course there were still baptisms and confirmations and weddings and funerals at the church, but there were fewer and fewer, and even those big events had less appeal. Why get married in the church if you could have the whole shebang at a beautiful event space in New Jersey? Why have a funeral at all? Much cheaper and less traumatic for a simple cremation and a few visiting hours at the funeral home.
Father Michael had watched it all decline. He had been at Holy Angels for almost his entire priestly ministry, and even though he was beloved by all, he could do little to overcome the complicated forces of change in the world all around him. His own faith was simple, as uncomplicated as the birth of a little baby boy to a poor man and woman far away from their home.
Christmas had always been the source of Father Michael’s hope for the world. The wonder of it all—God’s humble participation in the broken world---a little baby come make holy the earth and all its creatures. A child born to show us the way home, love divine to triumph over even death. It was Christmas where it all broke through, and Father Michael loved its celebration more than any other.
Laura approached him as he struggled to carry a large box towards the chapel. She called out to him, and he paused and offered a weary smile, slowly putting down his box in the snow. She had a few letters for him. He accepted them gratefully, and she remembered that there was a package for him back in the truck. As she went back, he opened one of the letters. A small card fell out of it. He picked it up. It had the picture of a woman on one side, and some writing on the other. He looked at the picture for a moment, blinked, and read the brief note that accompanied it. When Laura returned, he was looking off in the distance. She noticed a tear escape from his eye. “Are you ok?,” she asked. There was a moment of hesitation as he recollected himself. “Yes,” he said. “Thank you.”
An awkward silence followed, and Laura pointed to the box he had been carrying. “Can I help you with that?” she said. It took him a second to focus on the question. “Yes,” he said, “I would be very grateful.” They carried the box together to the little chapel, a humble structure that had once been a real stable. They went inside, and brought the box to the front, beside the altar. He opened the it, and gently took out a small ceramic angel. “I’ve got to set up the crib,” he said. Laura looked at him quizzically, and as he continued to empty the box he pointed to the figures of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. “It’s my last Christmas Mass, and it will be just me and them at midnight here”. He smiled at Laura, and she felt his elderly hand touch her arm. “I’ll be praying for you that you get some rest.” Then he reached down into the box and pulled something else out. “I’m sorry, I don’t have any money to give you,” he said, “but I’d like you to have this.” It was a star that had hung over the crib. It was a little chipped and worn. Laura was momentarily taken aback by the gift, but then protested that she couldn’t take it. The old man insisted. “It brings you to Him,” he said, pointing at the baby Jesus, and smiling. “God bless you,” he said. Laura thanked him more than once, and then wished him a wonderful Christmas.
As she left the chapel, she stopped and looked back inside. Father Michael was on his old knees, carefully arranging the manger scene and all its figures. Laura felt this pang of love for the old man, gratitude for the simplicity of his faith, for his service to so many people. And she felt sorry that this is how he was spending his last Christmas at his beloved church. Clutching the star in her hand, she made her way through the snowy night, a good part of her route still ahead of her. And then she got an idea.
The hours went by for Father Michael in the chapel. After setting up the manger scene, he walked slowly down the aisle towards the back of the church and turned around. He took it all in. It was an old building, and it badly needed a paint job. The pews were worn, the floor had cracked linoleum tiles, the ceiling showed signs of water damage. A few of the lights hadn’t worked in years.
How many Masses had he celebrated in this place? And over there, at the baptismal font, all the babies who were welcomed into the family, their little lungs giving surprising force to their cries of protest. And on the walls, the simple, unsophisticated stations of the cross, prayer-stops for so many faithful women and men over the decades. Above the simple wooden altar, the crucifix and its bloody body quietly witnessing to an almost incomprehensible love. He tried to imagine the smell of the cows and the horses that had once lived under the dark beams. How many calves and colts had been born amidst its hay, steam of their mother’s nostrils arising from their birthing labors? The fact that it had been a stable always made saying Mass there feel more authentic and holy, Christ making himself present in such humility.
He walked slowly to the sacristy and dressed for Mass. The alb, the stole, the white vestment—he put them on, one over the other. He walked back out to the front of the altar and sat in the chair beside the manger. There, beside the angel, was the picture that he had received earlier in the mail. He reached over and picked both up, angel in one hand, angel in the other.
He looked at the photo of his first and only real love. The woman in the photo still reflected the beauty that he encountered as a young man. At their first meeting, he saw that Miriam was full of life and love. She was pure, and radiant, and angelic. For all his life, she was an example of selfless devotion to others, the most Christ-like of anyone he ever knew. He loved her so, and never felt worthy of the love she showered on him. For a long time, he was sure that God had brought them together, and that they would spend all the days of their lives as partners in marriage, and with an abundance of children. But it was Miriam who realized that God wanted something else of him. It was Miriam’s love that enabled him to accept another invitation. She led him to the baby, and a life of service to Him. And years later, as he watched her offer her love to another, his heart was full of gratitude that God had given her to someone who really needed that love.
He turned the picture over. On the back of the card were the words “When she loved me, everything was beautiful!”. It hit him hard. The tears started to flow then, because for him, the same was true. He clutched the ceramic angel in his other hand more strongly. And as he looked up through the tears, he saw, coming down the aisle, an… angel. His angel.
It was as if she was a part of the air itself, and powered by the Source of all love. She had a small smile on her face, much like Miriam. He watched her move through the church, coming closer and closer to where he was sitting beside the manger. When she was near, she gestured to the manger, and when he looked, he was astonished to see Mary and Joseph and all the animals standing there as big as himself. Mary had Jesus in her arms, and she looked up from him to Father Michael. She smiled and nodded, and then offered the baby in her arms to him. Michael took him from her, surprisingly unafraid of holding the Divine. He was beautiful, the most beautiful baby he had ever seen. His eyes were wide and bright, and his skin was soft as a lamb’s wool. Michael rocked the baby gently, with a grin on his face that revealed a joy that had invaded him, mind, body and soul. Time stood still, nothing moved. There was only Michael and the baby. Mary looked on, Joseph looked on, the sheep and the cattle looked on, and Miriam, his personal angel looked on. Michael reached down and kissed the baby on his forehead, on his cheeks, on his head.
And suddenly the angel was lifting him up, up, up, slowly into the air. Michael and the baby rising in a slow, beautiful dance, filling the air above everything, and emanating a light that was indescribable. A light that was warm, caressing the air and the walls, the floors, and the pews, the crucifix and the altar—everything. A light that smelled like the most beautiful flower, that tasted like the sweetest food, that sounded like angel’s wings beating the air all around. The angel lifting Michael and the baby, rising together through the roof, between the snowflakes, above the clouds and above the air that gives all things life, out into the heavens filled with as many stars as there are snowflakes, out there to the very Source of everything that is. Michael and the baby and his angel.
At that very moment, as the clock hands turned to twelve, the doors of the chapel opened. A crowd of snow-covered people were there, and at the head of them was Laura, holding the star. They entered the little chapel—men, women, children of all ages, families, single people: all the people to whom Laura had brought the star on her route. They all came to be at Father Michael’s last Christmas Mass. They came to rediscover the child he had been holding for them. And as they approached the front of the church, there he was, sitting in the chair, two little angels at his side. He was dressed for Mass, waiting to bring them Christmas. There was a smile on his face, and his eyes were closed, and even though his spirit had ascended, he held the ceramic baby Jesus in his lap, there for anyone to hold.
Someone began to cry, and then stopped. No one moved. Everyone was taken aback by the beauty and the mystery of this Christmas moment. And then mothers and fathers reached out to their children and held them close, wives and husbands embraced, friends joined hands, and reached out to the stranger. They stood there for what seemed like a long time. And then out of the silence, one small voice emerged, singing. She sang quietly at first, almost stumbling out of emotion, but then everyone else found their voices too, and in that dark little chapel that once was home to cows and horses and calves and colts, a baby was born once again in the hearts of those who were there.
Silent night, holy night!
All is calm, all is bright.
Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child.
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace
Silent night, holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight.
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia,
Christ the Savior is born!
Christ the Savior is born
Silent night, holy night!
Son of God love's pure light.
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth
George, Clarence, and Joseph.
4th Sunday Advent 12/18/16Is7; Rom1; Mt1:18-24 SOS 9:15;HF12:15 Jmayzik SJ
Hey, it’s almost Christmas, one more week. I gave myself the gift of watching It’s A Wonderful Life again. Jimmy Stewart plays George Bailey, an extraordinarily decent, caring human being who is also a good son, brother, husband, father, friend and business owner. Time after time he chooses to focus on the needs of others before he thinks of himself. As a little boy, he risks his life to save his brother from drowning in an icy lake, and he endures a beating from his distraught employer, the pharmacist Mr. Gower, when he stops him from accidentally poisoning a customer with the wrong medicine. Later in the movie, when his father dies, he forgoes his dream of world travel and takes over his father’s humble savings and loan business because the people of the town are so dependent on it. Then he abandons his dream of college and so that his brother can go instead. And when it looks like he is going to lose the bank itself because of his old uncle’s mistake, he considers jumping into the river on a freezing Christmas Eve because his life insurance will save his family from financial ruin.
Time after time he puts aside his desires and wishes so that someone else can have what they need. The key scene in the movie that reveals what a good man he is happens when he is standing on the bridge, about to jump in. Clarence, his guardian angel, jumps in first because, as he explains afterwards, “I knew if I were drowning, you’d try to save me. And you see, you did. And that’s how I saved you.” George jumps into an icy river for a stranger, once again putting aside his own desperate situation. He is a good, good man.
At the end of the movie, I had my usually watery eyes, and the feeling once again that the Christmas story is about the actions of people like George Bailey. In fact, Christmas wouldn’t be at all if not for the choices of two main characters. There is the mother, of course, who accepts this joy and burden of a virgin pregnancy. But it’s the father that I was thinking about at the end of the movie. His name isn’t George. It’s Joseph, and he is a good, good man.
I’ve had three important Josephs in my life. My father’s poor immigrant parents were from Hungary, and they gave him the name Joseph, calling him by the Hungarian version of the name, Jozsi (YO-zhee) which I think is like Joey. My childless uncle Jimmy asked if I could be named after him, and my father (and mother) agreed. I received Joseph as my middle name, which I usually only heard when my mother was scolding me, “James Joseph!”
My mother had a brother named Joseph--my uncle Joe--who was a grade school teacher in New York City for about 40 years. In later years I became a kind of surrogate son to him, and he was probably my favorite uncle.
My third Joseph was my cousin, and we were constant companions throughout my growing years, sharing many adventures and misadventures all over the city.
All three Josephs in my life were good men. They were not as good as St. Joseph (although my uncle’s wife always called him that), or even as good as George Bailey (who is, after all, a fictional character). And anyway, it’s hard to be objective about people so close to you in your life. To be honest, I had a challenging relationship with my father, and he had a terrible temper and did not always treat my mother well. My Uncle Joe wasn’t always perfect with respect to the way he interacted with his brothers and sisters, and Cousin Joe could sometimes be selfish when it came to his time or his own interests. But I have to admit that I was often the recipient of their generosity of heart.
Their namesake, was much more, of course. He was a saint, and of course he was the father who raised Jesus as his son. And being a filmmaker and lover of movies, it helps me to think of him as, well, George Bailey.
Which brings me to the Gospel. It was precisely the wrong time and place when a little baby came wandering into Joseph's life. He was only engaged to the young, gentle woman named Mary and had not been with her at all when her pregnancy was revealed. He had every right to object and walk away from her, no reason to tolerate scandal for which he was not responsible. But Joseph was a good good man see, and Joseph had, I'm sure, a love of the broken world in which he lived--must have, because the Gospel tells us that he was unwilling to bring embarrassment upon Mary. Only someone like Joseph, with a heart full of compassion and love, is able to hear an angel's explanation and plea in the night, only someone like Joseph (or maybe a George Bailey) would dare accept the inconvenience and worse--the scandal-- to cooperate in the birth of one whose life would be more scandalous than any could imagine.
It’s fun to imagine what Joseph was like with his son Jesus. All those years of teaching him—not only about how to shape a good piece of wood or construct a chair or build a barn---but how to be a good man. How to listen to the hearts of others, how to be selfless--responding to the needs of your family and friends over your own, how to be committed, how to be strong. How to love as God would have you love. When Jesus got into a scuffle with his friends, did he turn to Joseph to learn how to be forgiving? When he was older, did Joseph help him understand how a real man respects and loves a woman? All the hours Jesus must have spent at Joseph’s side, watching his every action, observing his gentleness with Mary, seeing how he interacted with people in his life.
Like all of us, much of what Jesus became was the result of Joseph, and of course his mother as well. They were two peas in a pod, that Mary and her husband Joseph. Both responded immediately and generously to an interior invitation from God to participate in something wild and unpredictable. I’m sure there were other voices who counseled them to run away from their situations. I’m pretty sure that would have been my advice. But neither did.
On my way to a dinner the other night, I stopped at a shopping center to pick up a bottle of wine for my hosts. As I was waiting in line at the checkout counter, I was thinking about people (other than George Bailey) who remind me of St Joseph. Maybe Pope Francis. I mean, imagine him retired at the age of 76, his body and his mind shifting into relax mode after a lifetime of backbreaking service to others. He gets this wild and unpredictable invitation to take on the biggest burden imaginable. The gentle man shrugs his shoulders upon hearing the news: OK, yes. Remember how he looked on the balcony standing there that first night, his humility exposed before millions watching in the square and on screens aroundthe world?
Or how about Martin Luther King Jr, lying on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, his lifeblood draining out of his body, his eyes still on the prize of nonviolent victory over hatred and bigotry? Or Mother Teresa, her frail body bending down to comfort a discarded street person in the last moments of his life? Or Oskar Schindler, risking his life to save thousands of Jews from the evil of the holocaust? Or Nelson Mandela, who after being jailed for 27 years for advocating for freedom in South Africa, forgave his torturers and all his opponents when he assumed the presidency of his country? Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Schweitzer, Dorothy Day, and so many others remind me of the loving, forgiving, humble heart of the good good St Joseph. All of them were trying as hard as they could to accept the invitation to accommodate the arrival of God with us, Emanuel.
But the invitation isn’t extended to just those great ones. It comes to us as well.
Out in the parking lot of the shopping center, my wine in hand, I realized that I was going to be late to the party. This was not good. My hosts were real sticklers about tardiness. As I was about to get into my car, a little kid came up to me out of nowhere. “Mister”, he said. “What?”, I said, just a little too abruptly, and I regretted it immediately. I thought he was trying to sell something to me, candy, whatever, like kids do from school. But I took another look at him and realized he was too young for that. And then, he started to cry. The giant parking lot was mobbed, and all around us cars were lined up, trolling for empty spaces. I bent down and tried to ask him what was the matter, but it was hard to understand him through his sobs. At one point, he cried so loud, I thought the people in the cars would think I was doing something to him. Finally I understood his problem. He had lost his family in the parking lot, didn’t know where the car was, and he thought that they had left him behind.
I looked around, searching for someone I could get to take care of this problem, but everyone was rushing around taking care of their own problems, or at least, their shopping problems. His name was Daniel, I got that out of him, and for a few minutes, I hoisted Daniel up on my shoulders so he could see and be seen, as we both walked up and down the parking lot aisles for his parent’s car. Daniel called out to his mother and father, hoping that they would hear him. It suddenly occurred to me that this was not a good picture, me walking around with someone else’s kid, and I got a little scared. I decided I needed to take him inside to the main store there and find security or someone in authority. When we got inside, we found our way to the security office, and Daniel went running over to his parents, who were already there. They were practically in tears too.
I left the shopping center, racing to my dinner hosts, rehearsing in the car the explanation for my tardiness. My hosts were OK about it. I mean, they didn’t want to ruin the holiday invitation that they had extended to me, but I could tell they were judging me a bit. And maybe they didn’t buy my story.
But that was OK to me. It was a good thing I did, I said to myself. And it was kind of a George Bailey moment. Things like this come your way at the most unexpected, inconvenient moments, and they invite you to get your priorities straight. How else, but for the courage, faith and generosity of Joseph and Mary, would the babe have made his way into the world? They had their priorities straight, and for that we gratefully honor their example. To St Joseph, especially, this day, we say thank you!
Around the bend in the road.
3rd Advent A 12/11/16 Is 36;James5;Mt 11: 2-11 HF 10:45; SOS 7pmJMayzikSJ
My six month dental appointment rolled around, and I was sitting in the chair, my mouth wide open and my eyes looking at ceiling tiles, while Pam, my efficient dental hygienist was picking at the accumulation of plaque in the crevices of my teeth. Bing Crosby was singing White Christmas to us from the speaker on the wall, and I kept wondering what Pam was thinking about my teeth, whether she was silently judging me for all the fillings, the crooked paths a few teeth have taken, my inadequate flossing. She took some X rays, covering me first with a blanket of what I supposed was lead, and I asked her if it protected me from kryptonite as well. Besides revealing hidden cavities, I wondered if the X-ray machine could be configured to peer into the darkness of my soul to reveal any spiritual decay or shadows I was trying to keep secret from everyone, including God—the very stuff we are supposed to be working to be free of in Advent.
Like all good dentists and assistants, she spoke to me while she was working, to which I could only respond with an open-mouthed acknowledgment, ummmm hmmmm. She talked at length about her daughter. During a rinse-out moment, I asked her if she had any other children. She hesitated for a moment, and then said, “We have a son. We almost lost him.” I wasn’t expecting that, and I hesitated at how to respond. “He is 19,” she said. “His name is James.” I could sense that she wanted to say something more, so I found my voice. “Is he OK now?” Her eyes were filling up, and she just stood there for a moment. “I’m sorry,”she said. “No, it’s all right, really,” I said. And she went on to say that it was like a terrible roller coaster ride, but she thinks that there is finally light at the end of the tunnel.
Her face brightened a bit and this flood of words about her son came out. “When he was a little boy everyone loved him, he always had a smile on his face. He was one of those kids that brightened up the room.” He was an altar boy, was good at school, loved to play soccer, always had animals that he cared for. He loved exploring in the woods, wanted to go to Mars some day. He was loyal to his friends. He had a great laugh. He was sensitive to the feelings of other people, and always wanted to give money to the homeless. He loved Christmas.
As she sketched out this picture, a real boy began to appear in my mind. The kind of kid that you would be proud of, who gives a sense of purpose to your life. And as she spoke, Pam was no longer my dental hygienist. She was just James’ mom
Her voice trailed off. Outside the window, the sun had set and winter darkness had fallen. The dental suite had grown quiet, and I guessed we were the last ones in the office. Pam apologized again, feeling that she had imposed on me. But I was grateful. It was a gift to hear about James. I found my courage to ask, “Can you tell me what happened to him?”.
It started in junior high school. He grew quieter, less free in sharing his emotions. She attributed it to puberty, advancing adolescence. As he entered high school, he began to show some rebelliousness, refusing to participate in some family things, including church. He acquired new friends who were from very different backgrounds than his own, and Pam and her husband were not thrilled. His schoolwork declined, he seemed uninterested in anything other than video games and hanging out with his few friends, and he grew argumentative with everyone in the family. One day he was acting very strangely, his eyes were blank-looking, and they feared the worst, that he was on some kind of drug. When they confronted him, he denied it angrily. But that was the beginning of the real hell for all of them. Repeated instances of being high, angry outbursts, denials, lies, growing absences from home, missing money. They couldn’t trust him or anything he said, and he was becoming a stranger to his whole family. Pam and her husband got into arguments about how to handle him. Both felt accused and guilty that they had done something wrong in the way they raised him.
After acting irrationally and having another blowup one night, he stormed out of the house, and took a family car. It had started to snow, and his parents were worried. They called a bunch of his friends, and then finally went out to look for him. It started to snow heavily. His mother told me that she was praying so hard that he would be OK and that they would find him.
Shortly after leaving his house, James lost control of the car on curve of the remote country road. It smashed through a stone wall, and the car went down a hill and turned on its side. James was conscious but he was injured and couldn’t get out of the car. He could see the road above, and every so often when approaching car lights were visible through the snow, he would honk on the horn, but the wind and the snow seemed to swallow up the sound. A few hours went by, there were fewer and fewer cars, and James was freezing. He thought he might die. For the first time in a long time he prayed. He prayed that God would help him, that someone would see him and save him. Maybe the next car would be the one? Maybe the next light that came around the bend would bring help?
One of the town’s snowplows came down the road, a big truck that cleared the road and simultaneously spread a load of salt and sand. The driver happened to notice the break in the stone wall because he was getting a little too close to the side of the road. He eased up on the gas pedal, and thought he saw something through the falling snow. He paused, and was about to move on but then he heard a noise. It was James, hitting the horn on his car. It was the snowplow guy who found him, and who got help to get him out of there. His physical injuries took a few months to heal. He lost his spleen, broke part of his back. There were lots of stitches all over his body. He lived, but there were other things that needed to heal as well.
Pam said that night was the beginning of a long journey to sobriety. There have been therapists, addiction counseling. Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Lots of money and heartbreak. It hasn’t been easy for James or any of them. He has had his ups and downs since then. He’s not entirely out of the woods. But Pam thinks that her prayers were answered. God sent someone to save her son that night, and she believes that He will be with himso that he can make it in the long run.
Like James in his wrecked car, John the Baptist was sitting in his dark dungeon cell, expecting that his death was imminent. There was a party going on upstairs, and a gift was going to be offered pretty soon—his severed head on a platter. He peered out of the darkness, seeking an answer to his prayer. Not for his own rescue, but for something much more wonderful. All his life he had been waiting for a savior, someone who could liberate the sorry world from its sadness, its violence, its brokenness. All his life, he had been wondering if his own humble cousin could be the one who was promised since the beginning of time. Sitting in his cell, moments before his death, the light finally came round the bend. Excited friends brought him the news he had been seeking for so long:
“We saw a blind man cry at the sight of his wife, we saw him smile at a field of flowers.” “ A man with a terrible disease suddenly was healthy as an ox!”. “A little girl who couldn’t walk was dancing with her father!” “A deaf grandfather heard his grandson sing a song to him.” “ A husband who died got up from his deathbed and kissed his wife!” “Some beggars gave all their money to a poor widow!”. It was a different kind of emancipator than John had envisioned, one who promised to rule with the power of unimaginable love.
The prisoner told his friends: “Tell Jesus that I find no stumbling block in him.”, and a few moments later, John was rescued from his own addiction to the search, and was offered up as a lamb to slaughter. The party-goers were delighted.
When Pam had finished telling me her story about James, we both fell into silence for a moment. Then she said: “I prayed that Jesus would lead someone to my boy that night. And he really did.” Yes, I said. And at that very moment I prayed that someone would continue to lead her son—and all of us---to Jesus. We may not all be on the same road as James, but many of us are lost in the snowstorm of our lives, looking for the light to lead us home to love.
John still prepares the way for us to the One who has (and is yet to) come.
Around the bend in the road, guided by the light that shines out from the crib in the darkness and loneliness of a snowy night, we make our way to where he lays, and we bring with us all our hopes and dreams of our lives: that someone loves us enough to find us when we are wandering alone in the dark and bitter nights of our lives. Like John, we can find no stumbling block in Jesus, because we have heard the good news—sometimes in the most unlikely of places, with dental floss and tooth X-rays, from people like Pam and her son James: the eyes of the blind have been opened, and the ears of the deaf have been cleared, the lame leap like stags and the tongues of the dumb sing, and dead men and women are raised to new life, and the poor have the good news preached to them. And here’s the thing: He comes, in the darkness, through us, all of us sitting here in this room. Our Advent is really born when we set out to find someone lost on the road. It is in that act of rescue that God can bless us and save us too. We’ve still got a few weeks of Advent left. Perhaps this is the time to put aside our trips to the Mall, and instead set out on the road to help one another. Pam did that for me the other night, even though she thought she was supposed to be cleaning my teeth. I am deeply grateful for the light she brought me as well.
Too soon. Too soon.
2nd Advent A 12/04/16Is 1; Rom 5; Mt3:l-12 HF 9:15;SOS 1:15 JMayzik SJ
Maybe you saw him before he became a sensation, before all the publicity, the instant Facebook memes, the world-wide tweets, the TV coverage.
He might have been walking down Victory Boulevard or Amboy Road: dirty face, layers of ripped and worn clothing, slippers or no shoes at all, wearing a series of hats upon hats (woolen cap topped by a Yankees hat, topped by a hunting cap, topped by a stained red Make America Great Again cap). He would be pushing a shopping cart full of empty soda cans, broken toys, bags of rags and wire, an old TV, plastic flowers, an American flag, a car steering wheel, and dozens of other items. If you got close enough, it would have been hard to avoid the smell. And if you were within earshot, you could hear him singing in a wild voice: “you better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout I’m telling you why….”, over and over again.
At first, he was a nuisance to some, and something of a problem for the neighborhoods through which he traveled. Mumbling two words, “too soon, too soon, too soon”, he would go onto people’s lawns and unplug Christmas lights on trees and bushes; he removed plastic reindeer, giant snowmen, blow-up Santas, lighted candy canes, inflatable Christmas Minions-- placing them all off to the side, yelling “too soon, too soon, too soon”, and if anyone approached him in the act of the undecorating, he pointed his finger at them and sang again “you better not shout, you better not cry, you better not pout I’m telling you why…”.
If it hadn’t been for that reporter from the Advance, he never would have become such a celebrity. She was fearless, that one. Most people would have shied away from the madman, but she saw through his craziness, saw something truthful about him, about his message. And when she approached him to actually ask why he was doing all that unplugging and undecorating, she discovered something holy there, a lion with a fiery heart of love. His message was about finding the cave of Christmas and the light that burns there in the center of the earth.
Somehow, her story about him got out there. It went viral: across Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and eventually on the nightly news, other newspapers. He became the new guru, the latest fad--like beard oil and cupping therapy and drones and adult coloring books and laughter yoga and wellness counselors. All kinds of people started to post his every word and action online—millennials, retired grandmas, red and blue voters, even the New York Times. He kept talking about the long journey-- “too soon, too soon”-- and it was clear that he would be the guide. To get to the cave of Christmas, do what he did—first make the highways straight and level the valleys, inside and outside, repent, repent, repent---get rid of the crap, like the stuff he was dragging around in his shopping cart.
At first children were not amused. They wanted all the Christmas stuff, the more the merrier, the earlier the better. But somehow they were charmed too, and he unexpectedly became their pied piper, and they began to champion his cause. They told their parents to take down the huge Snoopy on the roof, to turn off the Star Shower laser projectors. And maybe most astonishing miracle of miracles, on 86th Street in Dyker Heights, they turned it all off too. And the parade of cars stopped coming, and the tourist busses went elsewhere.
He was the thing, the man, the dude, the boss. Huge crowds of people followed him around, respectfully, as he muttered and sang. Traffic jams occurred on the streets where he walked. When he stopped outside of a Dunkin Donuts, people laid bags of donuts and coffee at his feet. He would reach out and take a sip, maybe grab a couple of donut holes, and leave the rest behind. When he slept at night on the steps of a church, cradled in some cardboard boxes, people stood vigil through the night. He seemed oblivious to all the attention.
What was he selling that so many people seemed to want? Authenticity? Simplicity? Holiness? Maybe a way to the truth about who we all are, who we want to be. A way to the light of the world. A way, simply, to a baby in a crib.
It takes months for such a miracle to be born you know. You can’t simply force it with LED lights and twinkling Santas the day after Thanksgiving. Too soon, too soon, too soon.
But maybe we’re too addicted to instant gratification. His fame and fascination lasted about the life cycle of any new trend: about a week or two. In our throw-away, binging society, we grew bored of him and his message real quick. We had no patience for baby-waiting. Been there, done that…what’s next? The crowds moved on, the displays were plugged in again, 86th Street regained its nighttime glory of dancing reindeer, laughing Santas, Coney Island honky tonk, and of course, massive traffic jams. There was little notice of or particular interest in an ordinary looking little baby.
And what of the herald, the crazy pied piper sensation of the moment? Well, he carried his campaign on, solitary now, no adoring crowds, no more selfie attempts from admiring fans. And he was a nuisance of course, and he smelled, and so they declared him incompetent and put him in a cell for his own sake, where he continued to mutter and sing his ridiculous phrases even in the darkness of his dungeon.
His name, by the way, in case you were wondering, his name was John. He’s still there today, and his message is the same.
There is darkness all around us, but John comes to us, dressed in rags, stomach full of digesting locusts, and a raging fire in his heart, and he wakes us up from our happy slumber to try to teach us the way to becoming responsible for who we are meant to be. WAKE UP, it’s time to get your act together, forget about all the lights and the glitter, forget about your iPads and your Lexus, your autolacing Nikes, your fancy dinners, your Disneyworld vacations and your NorthFace jackets—it might take that to help you see the suffering servant who walks on this earth every moment of every day, it might take that to open your hearts to the poor, the lame, the blind, the starving, the wounded and the dying. Prepare the way of grace for the world in which we all live, go to war against the real darkness, use the weapon of Love that is trying once again to be born in our world.
On the other side of the night, you know, in the cave of Christmas where the light burns in the center of the earth, lies the promise we celebrate in this season of Advent, the time of coming to, coming to the promise: that place where the wolf will once again be the guest of the lamb, where the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion browse together, where the cow and the bear shall be neighbors, where the baby shall play by the cobra's den, where little white boys and girls will play with little brown and black and yellow and red boys and girls, where grownup children will share with one another and help one another, where brothers and sisters everywhere will love one another in the way the world was built to be from the beginning evermore and evermore.
Was he a crazy homeless man, or was he a herald? You can’t rush Christmas, you know. “Too soon, too soon.” Advent is meant to be time of wandering in the darkness, seeking the real light. We need to do Advent. We have to dim our lights to find the real light, get rid of all the glitz and the glamor for a little while. And when we do finally discover it in the humble cave, amidst hay and the smell of cows and sheep, it is more brilliant than a million homes on 86th street.
Sweet peace in the morrow.
1st Advent A 11/27/16 Isaiah2; Romans 13; Mt 24:37-44 SOS 10:45 HF12:15,5pm JMayzikSJ
We were lost in the darkness, and I was trying to reassure everyone else. “Don’t worry,” I said, “we’re almost there, we’ll be safe in a moment.”. I wasn’t actually all that confident, really, but I had to put on a good face. I could see the terror in their eyes, fearing a missile aimed right at us: bulls-eye, instant death, or devastating injuries. “This way,” I shouted, and led the rag-tag group over a burned-out Mr Softee ice cream truck, through an enormous, smoldering carcass of turkey rib bones, across the slippery surface of the Rockefeller Center skating rink. Suddenly we were leaping across the gangplank onto the departing Guy V. Molinari, the last ferry to depart the sinking island of Manhattan. I grabbed the outstretched arm of the final member of the team, and tried, with every ounce of strength left in my body, to pull him over the gap, but he slipped out of my grasp and plunged into the icy, turbulent waves as the boat pulled away. “I’m sorry, Donald,” I shouted. And the man standing beside me looked at me and I looked at him, and…I woke up, my hand still outstretched from the side of the bed.
I was in my sister’s house in upstate New York, and it was 3am, at least 12 hours after our big Thanksgiving family dinner. Once I realized that it was my digestive tract’s imagination, and that I was not in fact responsible for the demise of the president-elect, I got up in the dark to go to the bathroom, and stumbled down the stairs, missing a step and nearly falling. The dog, behind the door in the family room, was alerted by the noise and automatically raised a warning alarm, a kind of cough-bark. No one seemed to be awakened, and my business done, I returned to my bedroom, unable to sleep, and thinking about the darkness all around me, and the night.
In these waning days of autumn as we float quietly towards the winter solstice of longest night, I welcome the dark that most of my friends and family condemn and denounce. “I hate it that it gets dark at 5pm,” they say, “how I love the long light of summer days”.
Not me. I welcome the growing darkness, I embrace the black cloak of night that wraps itself around our world in a season when leaves turn golden and fire red, when great oaks shed their acorns and squirrels hussle to gather them for winter storage. There is something about nocturnal darkness that is comforting to me. I like the night, when the pace slows a bit, the world grows more silent, when you are encouraged to look more deeply into the shadows. And to anticipate “coming to” the light.
The night wasn’t always so consoling. When I was little, I was often afraid of the dark. When I went to bed, I’d say my prayers, and my mother would tuck me in, leaving me with Shakespeare’s words: “Goodnight, goodnight, parting is such sweet sorrow but I shall say goodnight until the morrow. Sleep, sweet peace be on thy rest, goodnight,” and then she would leave me with one sweet kiss to help bear the night. My mama would leave the door slightly ajar on her parting, and I could see the light from the living room and the kitchen, the dancing light from the television, and I could hear the faded, distant sounds of conversations between my parents.
As a child I was never brave enough to face the enormity of the darkness or the silence of the night. Monsters live in the darkness, you know, and they wait to surprise and attack you when the lights go out and you can’t find a way to escape. At night, armies spring traps, gunfire flashes in the darkened streets, screams and cries of betrayal arise from seedy nightclubs and dangerous docks. The scariest of nightmares play out in endless, lightless nights, bringing terror to our sleeping bodies that sometimes finds a way to haunt us in our daily lives. Our fears, battles, and jealousies that are given freedom in the night, stalk us still as we walk unconscious through work and school and drive aggressively on the expressway and shop addictively at the mall.
As I got older, I learned to live with—or at least accept---the dangers lurking in the night. With even a little nightlight, I could keep the scary part of it at bay, and see that there is something else in darkness—a kind of hope, a pregnancy towards a better day. Tomorrow, tomorrow is always being born in the night, and with it the expectation that yes, the sun will come up, and our hearts can be expectant of something wonderful: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.” Out of the darkness, “Come ... let us walk in the light of the Lord.” As I got older, I learned to look for the light in the darkness.
One night not long ago, while walking across the Williamsburg bridge, I encountered a real potential nightmare. The bridge has an awesome walkway, and at one point you are so close to the subway that shares the roadbed that you can look into the faces of the passengers seated within. I watched several trains go by, the faces lighted up in all manner of emotion—smiling, weary, frightened, amused. I turned my attention for a moment to the incredible lights of Manhattan, which were casting a glow onto the bridge itself.
As a train passed by behind me, I heard a voice calling out of the noise. “What are YOU looking at?” He was standing right beside me, uncomfortably invading my space-- his face…well, in my face. You know how you get that feeling, like when a huge dog is suddenly in front of you in pre-attack mode? That flush feeling that comes over you and you think, he can smell I’m scared? I was sure that the only light that was playing off my face was bright red. I finally found some words: “Nothing, man. I’m just standing here on this beautiful night.” Even though I’m a New Yorker and I long ago learned not to do this, I looked into his eyes. They were on fire, wild, and troubled. Maybe it was because I looked at him, maybe it was the way I looked into him, but he reacted differently than I expected. “Oh. OK then,” he said in a much less belligerent tone. He started to turn away, and then he turned back and smiled at me. “Have a nice night,” he said, and headed towards Williamsburg.
I stood there, my anxiety draining. Maybe all the beautiful light was too much for him, I thought. Or maybe he was drawn to it like all the rest of us, as we sleepwalk through the nights of our lives, hoping to wake up, “come to” the tomorrow of our best dreams.
This is a season of darkness, and a season of light. The darkness falls all around us, early now. Even as we make it home from school and work, we walk in the dark. But we are so eager for light, and when you walk or drive down the street towards your home, already there are so many Christmas lights up, displays all arranged on lawns and porches. I’ve been complaining about this for awhile… I hate rushing into Christmas right after—or even before—Thanksgiving. By the time Christmas really arrives—almost 4 weeks from now—you’re kind of sick of it already.
But I understand the need for it, maybe especially now. Many of us are struggling with our own darkness—in our families, our finances, our love lives, our health, our futures. Listen carefully to the petitions as I read them in a few minutes. You will hear the darkness that our brothers and sisters are living through right now. Sometimes they are in the midst of real nightmares far worse than those generated by digestion of post-Thanksgiving dinners. And so maybe it’s natural to want to jump-start our Christmas, to roll out the light that it brings a little early.
Advent is all about light, a light in the darkness, sweet peace till the morrow. Advent is all about helping us face the enormity of the darkness. In Advent we recall that we are “coming to” the warm loving daylight that never ends. In Advent we look forward to the birth of a new day when swords shall be beat into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, when all the crimes that are sanctioned in darkness are shamed in the good truth of the light everlasting, everloving day. In Advent we are given another chance to light a candle against the darkness of nations at war—inside, here; and outside—there. In Advent, something is trying to be born again, something is trying to tumble out of the long, hard darkness into the wonderful light of day where it is meant to grow and live in love.
We might have some part in making that happen. Maybe more than just a small part, actually. Advent is a time of hopeful watching and waiting, but Advent is a time to prepare, a time to prepare for a birth.
Two thousand years ago a child was born beneath a starry night, yet he cries still to be truly born in you, and in me. This is the time, the moment he is waiting for, and he asks each or us, are we ready for his ‘coming to’ birth? If you are like me, you aren’t. There is a lot of stuff that has to be done, there’s a lot of junk inside that needs to be thrown out, a lot of cleaning, a whole heck of a lot of re-forming this crib to make it suitable for the birth of the Light of the World.
And so, as we begin Advent together, shall we? Shall we bring in the light? Maybe not exactly across the wreckage of Mr Softee trucks and giant turkey bones, or leaping across the troubled waters of New York harbor, but maybe in our own little heroic ways for one another. We can do a little bit every day. One act of kindness for someone, one sweet word, one gentle outreach, one little gesture to light someone’s way each day. We can be a guiding light for one another, outstretched hands reaching out with the light of our hope in the Lord who is trying to be born again. Shall we? Shall we bring in the light together?
A Thanksgiving story for our times.
Christ the King 2016 11/20/16 10:45 HF; 1:15 SOSJmayzik SJ
It was the night before Thanksgiving, and little Stanley’s parents were getting the house ready for their holiday guests. “They’ll be here in a few minutes,” his mother said to his father. “Now remember, don’t bring it up. I want this to be a peaceful Thanksgiving.” He father nodded. “I know, I know. No religion or politics. I’ll try!”
Stanley didn’t know what they were talking about. He was just so happy that his favorite aunt and uncle were coming to stay with them. He loved them, and it was going to be fun to have them for two whole days!
At that moment he heard a car horn honk, and he ran to the door to see their familiar car pulling into the driveway. There was a big welcome of course, hugs and kisses all around, and pretty soon they were all settled in the guest room and they were all in the kitchen together, nibbling on a late night snack as his mother and his aunt prepared some of the food for the big Thanksgiving dinner the next day. Aunt Kathy asked Stanley what he wanted for Christmas, and he showed her his list for Santa, and Uncle Joe and his father talked about the Giants and other sports stuff.
Eventually Stanley wandered off into the family room to play with his hot wheel cars, while the adults stayed in the kitchen talking. It wasn’t long before Stanley heard a lot of angry shouting coming from the kitchen, and being a sensitive little boy, he was immediately upset. He peeked into the room and saw his uncle and aunt on one side of the room arguing with his parents on the other. He didn’t really understand what it was all about, but they were shouting words like “emails” and “tax returns” and “Benghazi” and “Crimea”. It got louder and louder, and Stanley had never seen his family fighting like that, and it frightened him.
He didn’t know what to do, he was so upset, he had to just get away from all the yelling, and so he picked up Elmo, his favorite stuffed toy, and went out the back door to the “fort” he had in the woods behind his house. He was quietly crying and talking to Elmo the whole way, but he didn’t really pay attention to where he was going in the dark woods, and he got lost, and before he knew it he was out of the woods and walking on some streets that he didn’t ever remember seeing. It looked like an industrial park, and there were rows and rows of dark warehouses everywhere.
He went down one empty street, then another, and another, and he was completely confused. He didn’t know which was to go, he was getting very tired, and a different kind of lost scared than when he watched everyone fighting. Worse, it was getting very very cold, and he only had a sweatshirt on, and…it started to snow.
There were no people around, no cars, and he was freezing. So Stanley decided to try a few doors of a big warehouse that was in front of him. He tried one door, but it was locked. Then another, same. But when he tried a third door that was kind of hidden around the back, it opened. He went inside.
It was warm but dark except for a few emergency exit lights. He could tell it was an enormous space. When he walked, the echo of his footsteps bounced off the walls and ceilings far down into the darkness. When he stopped, it was silent, except for the occasional distant howl of wind outside, which of course scared him. He could vaguely see large things all around him, towering over him, strangely shaped. He couldn’t tell what they were, although in the dark they seemed like huge monsters.
He felt along the walls of the building and finally came across a row of switches, and when he hit them a bunch of hanging lights in the ceiling began to glow faintly, and then got brighter. And all around him, in every direction, was an amazing sight. Those giant shapes began to reveal themselves: huge three dimensional figures of a policeman, a sea monster, a giant woodpecker, a purple dinosaur, a crazy looking cat with a big striped hat, a giant red dog, a tin man, a bunch of red and green stars, and wait…whoa, Elmo, which looked just like the one in his hand except as big as a skyscraper. They went on and on in that gigantic warehouse, all these giant figures, and they were silently floating in the gloomy vastness. It was at once creepy, but especially with Elmo, it was also reassuring to be there with them.
Stanley opened the door to the outside and saw that the snow was coming down faster and harder. He couldn’t go out there. It was too cold and he might get buried in the snow, and he was really tired. He cried again, thinking that no one would ever find him, and he might never find his way home again.
But then he pulled himself together, he looked around the warehouse and found a bunch of bags stuffed with cotton material. He arranged them and made a kind of bed out of them, held on tightly to Elmo in his arms, and when he put his head down upon the cotton, he promptly drifted off to sleep.
He woke up to the sound of loud voices. He looked around, and saw that the balloons were arguing with each other. They sounded angry and hurt. He didn’t understand exactly what they were saying, but it reminded him of what he heard before in his kitchen.
Some were complaining bitterly about all these newcomer balloons that had taken away their jobs. Others were saying that the selection had been rigged, that there weren’t any girl balloons. One claimed that balloons had too many guns, that the rights of balloons all over the world were threatened. And the arguments got louder and meaner and nastier, and one balloon purposely pushed another, another tried to a puncture a hole in an opponent, and it looked like it was about to turn into a total balloon riot.
That was when the giant Elmo noticed Stanley sitting there, and as he drifted over to him, the others stopped yelling and floated right behind. They all looked at him with interest.
Elmo asked him: “Hey, are you the new king?” Stanley couldn’t believe Elmo was talking to him. “Did you hear me?” Elmo said again. “I asked you if you are the new guy at the end of the parade. In that fancy gold sled with the “special” flying reindeer. Are you the new king of the balloons?”
Stanley blinked, and looked down at the Elmo in his hand, and then back again at the giant Elmo floating above him. Balloon Elmo turned to the other balloons. “Maybe if we had a new king, we wouldn’t be stuck here in this warehouse. Maybe a new king would put us back into the parade where we belong, right?”
They all looked at one another, and then gathered in a circle. Once again they began to argue, and every so often they would look over in Stanley's direction or sometimes point to him and Stanley heard a few words and phrases he didn’t really understand like “too liberal” and “alt right” and “crooked” and “demagogue”. The voices rose to a loud but indistinct crescendo and then stopped abruptly when Stanley spoke up, trying to get their attention.
“What did you say?” Elmo asked. Stanley replied, “I just asked what you want me to do if I’m king… of... the balloons?” They turned and started arguing again for a few minutes, and then stopped, seeming to have an answer. “Agreed?” Elmo asked them, and they all nodded or shook up and down. And Elmo turned to a giant Woody Woodpecker and nodded.
Woody took the cue and flew over to a piece of wood and carved out a message with his beak. There was an S and an A and a V. He kept going until four words were carved into the wood. It said, “Save us from ourselves”.
“That’s what you want?”, Stanley said to them, and they nodded and applauded with their hands and their tails and their feathers, which is when Stanley suddenly woke up. The balloons were just hanging there, silent now, looking disinterested with fake smiles on their faces. It was as if nothing had ever happened. He heard the sound of a motor and a huge scraping sound, and so he went to the door, opened it and looked out. It was light out, pretty early, and the snow had stopped. He saw a snowplow truck moving on down the road, scraping the snow off the street in front of the warehouse.
Stanley turned around and looked at all the balloons hanging there in the warehouse. It made him feel a little sad, but at least they weren’t arguing. He decided he had to try to find his way back home, and so he climbed his way through the snowdrifts and snowbanks over to the plowed road.
He walked and walked and walked for quite a while, and still didn’t see any people, but eventually the rows of warehouses turned into streets with houses on them. Stanley could see smoke coming out of the chimneys of the houses, and every once in a while a light might be on in an upstairs bathroom.
He kept walking, and just as he was thinking that maybe he should go up to a house and knock on a door and ask someone to help him find his parents, he was passing a house that already had a whole bunch of Christmas decorations up outside. He stopped to look at them.
Over there was a really big Elmo—not as big as in the warehouse, but pretty big, and he was waving his hand. And over there was a life-sized Santa in his sleigh, and some life-sized reindeer.
But what really caught his attention was the manger scene that was in the center of the lawn. It was big too, and so beautiful. It had a life-sized Mary and a life-sized Joseph, and some life-sized cows and a life-sized donkey. And in the middle of all of them was a life-sized baby Jesus. And he had… a crown on his head. (Well, it looked like a crown, but it was really a golden halo because, I mean, he was Jesus after all.)
Now Stanley was a little boy, but he was a very smart little boy. He looked over at Elmo, who seemed to be waving right at him. He looked at Santa, who was sitting very proudly on that sleigh. And then he looked at the baby Jesus. He looked at the baby Jesus for a very long time.
And then Stanley slowly went over to Santa. He picked him up off his sleigh, which was not an easy thing to do because he was life-sized and Stanley was a little guy, but he somehow did it. He put Santa over to the side, leaning him up against a tree.
And then he went over to the baby Jesus, and you know what he did, don’t you? Yeah, he picked him up and carried him over to that big golden sleigh--the baby Jesus with the crown on his head---and put him right there on that throne where the king of the parade is supposed to sit.
And then he turned to Elmo, and Elmo’s hand and Elmo’s head were waving and nodding like crazy, and Stanley knew that he approved, and Stanley knew that he had found the perfect king of the balloons after all, the one who would “Save us from ourselves.”
Just at that moment, a van came driving down the street, and it started honking its horn like crazy. Suddenly it came to a stop in front of the house and in front of Stanley, and the doors flew open and out ran his mother and his father and his aunt and his uncle. They were crying and smiling, and hugging and kissing him all over, and saying how sorry they were for fighting and scaring him out into the darkness of the night. Stanley was so happy, not really because he was no longer lost, but because his parents and aunt and uncle were happy together again.
And when they had all calmed down, Stanley showed them how he had put Jesus onto the sleigh because he was king of the balloons. And Stanley’s mama cried because she understood, and so did his aunt, and even though they kind of hid it because they were men, his father and his uncle also had water in their eyes because of what Stanley did.
Later on, everyone was back home. Stanley’s mom and aunt were mashing the potatoes and cooking the string beans, and his dad and uncle were trying to clean out the turkey and get it ready to go in the oven. Stanley came into the kitchen for a moment to get some juice, and his father asked him if he wanted to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on the television. Stanley smiled, shook his head no, and drank his juice in front of his family right there in the kitchen, with Elmo on the counter next to him. That was all he wanted to do on Thanksgiving, to be right there in the kitchen with all of them.
You know, the king of the balloons never wore a crown on his head or special kingly robes. He never had a throne or a castle. He had no army, no knights to defend him in battle. When he was killed on a piece of old wood, Pontius Pilate thought he was making a great joke by putting a sign on the cross, "This guy is the King of the Jews". And yet he was king especially of those who were hungry and thirsty and naked and ill and those who were imprisoned in their own greed and selfishness, of the living, the dying and the dead, he was and is their king because what he rules is not a country with parties and politicians and boundaries and borders but something that is as high and wide and deep as the universe itself, he is king of our hearts, and the power he exercises is the power of love. The power of love--which confuses the most selfish among us because it asks for nothing in return—love given freely, unconditionally, everlastingly. The truth is He is our king, and when we let him reign freely, he rules through us—touching everyone we choose to go out of our way to love.
The King of love my Shepherd is, Whose goodness fails me never;
I nothing lack if I am his, And he is mine forever.
Confused and foolish oft I strayed, But yet in love he sought me;
And on his shoulder gently laid, And home rejoicing, brought me.
And so through all the length of days, Your goodness fails me never;
Good Shepherd, may I sing your praise Within your house forever
The genuine feeling of the beginning of things.
33rd Sunday C 11/13/16 Mal3;2thes3;Lk21:5-19HF 10:45,12:15; SOS 7pm JMayzik SJ
When I was a little boy, I sometimes wanted to believe that I was a sorcerer’s apprentice, like Mickey Mouse in the movie Fantasia. I would wake up early in the morning, look out the window and steal the sorcerer’s magic wand (which was really a stick from my Lincoln logs). I’d raise it up above my little head, and say a few commanding words to encourage the sun to emerge from its hiding place below the horizon. And sure enough the black sky would grow brighter and brighter, and suddenly the orange fireball would show itself. With a few upward swipes from my wand the sun would rise up up up into the sky, revealing hills and valleys, houses and streets, a lady walking her dog, an empty car being warmed up in the cold autumn frost.
And everyone would come awake everywhere, including my sister buried under her multiple covers, my mother to the shower and my father to make the coffee. It was all under my power to make the day begin, but of course like the sorcerer’s apprentice I discovered I didn’t really have control of the whole process.
In one of my favorite movies, "A Thousand Clowns", the main character Murray likes to go down to the docks and wave to the cruise passengers as the boat is about to sail. He explains, "It’s a great thing to do when you are about to start something new; it gives you the genuine feeling of the beginning of things."
The beginning of a new day is almost always wonderful. You get a re-start, a chance to make it great again. Adventures await you. The world is full of wild possibilities.
The newsfeed on your phone alerts you that your candidate had defied all odds and has won the election. You turn on your computer and someone you haven’t seen in 10 years asks for you to friend them on Facebook. You stop at Dunkin Donuts and they have their pumpkin spice latte available again for the season. A little kid will smile at you in Costco from his perch in the shopping cart, and you’ll feel as though you have connected with God in that instant. You click on Thursdays picks on Spotify and get excited to hear a new music sound that stirs your very soul. You come around the corner, and this tree of magnificence stands in front of you, dressed in astonishing autumn colors of yellow, red and fiery orange. A chance encounter with a stranger while you are stuck on line somewhere offers the promise of a newfound friendship. You’ll see something that is the funniest thing and you won’t be able to stop laughing, tears wetting your cheeks.
When you are the sorcerer’s apprentice and have the power to make the sun to shine for another day, the world is full of wild possibilities.
The genuine feeling of the beginnings of things.
But morning’s light turns strong, sometimes brutally hot, and then as it arches across the sky, even the sorcerer himself can’t prevent it from falling back down to the other side, fading light turning into darkness of night. The ending of things, the day itself. Sometimes you forget its inevitability, and it can fall very fast, sneaking up like a thief. You look in the mirror and you get scared because you think that maybe you’re not that young anymore. You get a text message that tells you in so many words, this relationship is over. The house you once thought was a castle has become your prison, carpets worn, paint fading and a roof that won’t last, and the marriage and the family that was once so perfect is served with cold legal documents that signify its death. You are told that your services are no longer required, the plant is closing, the position has been automated. Your favorite restaurant goes out of business, the perfect lemon chicken soup never again to be your Saturday treat. The old gang never meets anymore on Friday nights, the children have their own lives to lead, lifetime partnerships are no longer relevant. The property filled with noble trees behind your house that was your private park is bulldozed for a new McMansion. You get word that your favorite teacher has passed on from this life. Your heart is broken by the loss of an election on which you had placed all your hope.
The endings of things comes too, and it is the endings that are sometimes hardest to endure. The end of a day, or the end of a life, or the end of a world.
Jesus talks about the end of the world, the end of our lives and the end of all life as we know it, and it scares the heck out of his friends. Just like it scares the heck out of us too. At some point, everyone considers that the end is near when unimaginable things happen---natural disasters, all-out warfare, political upheavals.
How many voices raised that biblical prospect on Wednesday morning, the day after the election: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” Or in this case family, friends and neighbors will rise against one another in competing visions of the future of our nation. One friend was distraught. “It’s already happening,” he told me, “with more to come. Just wait, you’ll see.”
I think he’s right. It is already happening. The end of the world as we know it, at hand: it’s curtains for us all. The moment is upon us, today.
Just a few hours ago, I used my sorcerer’s wand and commanded the sun to rise, as per usual. It is rising still, but I can trace its arc across the sky already. There, watch there, in the west. That’s where the darkness will fall. And as the end approaches, John is sitting there in the fourth pew, bored to tears and a million miles away, cursing the leaves that need to be raked in the back yard. Angela is praying her heart out in the back of the church, asking God that her mother’s cancer will disappear. Tony is home, fast asleep, after watching 8 episodes of The Walking Dead before he turned in for bed. Big John has started his day taking another drink and telling himself that he is not an alcoholic. Amanda stands before a pair of gold earrings in Kay Jewelers in the mall, trying to imagine how she would look in them. Bobby is exhausted from playing Grand Theft Auto 5 on his X-Box One for 6 hours straight. Suzie is eating a ham sandwich in Subway, thinking about how to pay for her children’s school uniforms. Ed is talking with his boss, hoping that his work is recognized for all the effort, and that the bank will not foreclose on his house. Anthony is chasing the dragon in South Beach with a $10 bag of Mexican heroin. Sally is falling asleep during the homily and is nearly falling out of the pew.
The end of the world as we know it is at hand, indeed. It will be a moment just like this moment, the moment when it will all be over, the world as we know it, curtains for all. But it’s our choice how we handle it. Carpe Diem, as they say. Seize this day to make it end well. Not with a wand, but with our hands and our hearts.
The end of a day and a world in which we fear one another, hurt one another, abandon one another. The end of a world where people suffer alone, search for love in the all the wrong places, fight for things that really don’t matter at all. The end of a world that mistakes alcohol, drugs, sex, and material things as the answer to our deep hunger. The end of a world where responsibility is dodged and selfishness embraced. The end of a world that celebrates power and riches over humility and simplicity and gratitude. The end of a world of injustice, where children starve, babies are aborted, husbands are abusive; end of an unjust world where employers and realtors discriminate, resources are squandered, children are ungrateful, women are degraded. The end of a world where people distrust and demonize one another because of their race, their religious beliefs, their sexual orientation, their politics. The end of a world where walls are chosen over bridges, where ignorance and anger trumps wisdom and reconciliation, where crudeness, viciousness and meanness prevail over grace, kindness and mercy.
Get ready. Get set.
Open your hand, and receive the beginning of a new world. It is at hand, and within our grasp, the end of what we know, and the promise for which we all hope.
The body of Christ, Amen.
John comes out of his reverie in pew four and follows the long line up to the front. Mary watches Liz on her way up too, noticing her new hairdo and the pretty blouse she has on. Little Sal holds his hands together like his CCD teacher taught him to do and smiles when he sees his classmate Joe in line next to him. Carol concentrates on singing as she walks, trying to get on line where the priest is giving out communion. All of them, all of us, approaching the moment that is the end but which is the beginning of everything—possibilities, pregnancies, prospects—in a little while, they—we—will be in line for that moment, a moment that Jesus promises us is more marvelous than we can ever imagine.
And when we leave this place, the moment in our hand and then our mouth and then our stomachs and then our hearts… why, the beginning of a new world is at hand, our hand.
A new world where the elderly are respected, marriages are repaired, family disputes are settled, material goods are put in perspective, children are never abused, the poor are not forgotten, where the good creation is protected, where no one is disrespected and everyone is accepted, where life is always chosen over convenience or expense, where we love even the unlovable, a new world where love is the first choice in every single one of our actions. A world where we acknowledge, praise and reverence the Source of everything and everyone.
The body of Christ. We are, we are the body of Christ, and the face of His love.
Don’t you see? There is nothing to fear at the end, because we bring--in our very bodies from this table--the beginning to everyone, we bring the promise and the reality of a new beginning, because we bring Jesus who has been given in hand to us. That is real power, power that makes political leaders look puny in comparison. And you know what else? It is the only real way to unity for all of us. This food, the body of Christ, is meant to bring us all together, forever and ever.
In a few short moments, we could end the world as we know it, and start the world anew. As someone has famously said, to make it great again. But all of it, the whole world, every one of us. “There will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.” This is not sorcery. This is Christ. We can make the sun to rise and the love to shine. Shall we do it together, shall we do it today? We must, we must, we must.
32nd Sunday C 11/06/16 2Mac7, 2Thes2,Lk20:27-38 HF 9:15;SOS 1:15 J Mayzik Sj
I woke up Tuesday and I knew. It was time to get a haircut. That’s the way it is with most men, I think. Suddenly you can’t put it off anymore, it has to be done this day. On the way to the barbershop, I tried to guesstimate how many haircuts I have had in my life. Hmmmm, let’s see, a haircut every 4 or 5 weeks maybe. So if you live to be 90 that’s about 900 haircuts in your lifetime, including the last one you get at the funeral home. I think they give you one when you die, don’t they?
I’ve been going to the same barber for the last 20 years or so. His name is Al. He was born in Italy but he long ago lost an accent. As he cuts my hair, he’s able to talk about anything—social media, world events, the economy, grandchildren, religion, politics. He’s a really smart guy. Of course the topic of the election came up, and we both agreed that we’ve had enough. “It’s easy to get depressed,” he said. “These politicians, they forget what really matters. Our lives are short.” It’s about taking care of one another and our world. To have peace. To live good lives. To share our love with our family and our neighbors. To pass a better world onto our children. “The world today…” Al said, “I don’t know what’s gonna happen.”
It was depressing to talk about the election, and so I told him about my haircut guesstimate, and he laughed. Al estimates he has given over 350,000 haircuts so far. When he gets to heaven I'm pretty sure there will be a special haircut angel who just touches your head and gets perfect. And if you don’t have hair anymore I'm pretty sure it all comes back, too. In heaven, Al can hang up his scissors and just enjoy the place, no standing!
Children naturally look to the future with optimism. At a children’s Mass I asked kids about heaven. All these hands went up, no doubts about it. How do you get in? "Well”, said one little girl, "God just kisses you and says, 'Welcome aboard.' " What’s it like when you get there?, I asked. “I think it’s gonna be like the most perfect place in the universe because God’s there and he won’t let there be anything bad, like on earth where there’s all these bad things here, and you can just sit with him in the garden and even take a nap with him. And I’ll just be free, to do whatever I want, jumping on the clouds, I’ll be doing cannonballs on the sky.”
And then they grow up, and life gets a lot more complicated, and a lot less certain. I was recently speaking with a young man, a former student—one of those ‘millennials’. They’re up for grabs on Tuesday, and they are known to have little confidence about the future, problems with commitment, and issues with religion. He was telling me about his girlfriend---with whom he is head-over-heels in love. I could tell that he is actually considering the long-term with her, which is a little surprising, because up until now he didn’t seem to believe in commitment. It was so good to see his eyes light up when he spoke about her.
And somehow in the conversation he turned the tables on me: he asked me why I became a priest. It’s a question I've been asked many times before, and the answer is complicated and can be lengthy because it has a lot to do with... well, just about everything, about life and death and everything in between and beyond. But I could tell there was something else behind the question. Why do you ask?, I said. And he responded that he didn't believe in God, and he didn’t understand how anyone can give up so much for something that was so uncertain.
"No God?", I said, as we passed a group of punk-rockers waiting to get into a club. "No, I don't believe so”, and he smiled apologetically. "So what happens when you die?", I asked. "Nothing, as far as I can see," he replied matter-of-factly. "And that doesn't bother you?" I asked, and he shook his head no.
But I didn't believe him— because for a moment, just a few seconds, I saw something else in his eyes, a glimmer of hope, perhaps, or a small desire held together with the tiniest of strings. And I knew about the tragedy he had endured but that he had never revealed to me: both of his brothers had been killed, one in a car crash, one of an overdose. But he didn't crack with me, and so we went back to an easier conversation about women, and the ways to win them over. But his words and thoughts stayed with me.
Early the next morning, I walked alone out into the rising light of the autumn day. The sky was golden and a kind of reddish purple, and fading blue. As I walked, I tried to imagine a world without any hope of God. It was not the first time I had ever considered it. It's always lurking back there, the dark side of faith, which makes faith possible at all. It’s the fuel, I think, behind all our anxieties about the upcoming election. What if there is no God? If not, then this world is all there is, and it can be a very brutal one. Maybe we are all in more trouble than we realize.
But as the air turns crisp and the days turn darker, the Church gives us stories that testify to hope. There's the story in Maccabees of the Jewish mother and her seven sons. King Antiochus IV was determined to get rid of the Jews—and he had them executed for any practice of their faith, including fasting from pork. So in this story he orders a mother and her seven sons to eat some pork chops, which they refuse to do. And he commands that they be put to death, slowly, agonizingly. One by one they are tortured unmercifully. He slices out their tongues, cuts off their feet and their hands, scalps them, fries their bodies in flaming pans. And just for fun, he lets the audience watch their mother witness their deaths-- before, of course, she is killed. They never give in, never eat the pork. Each one of them accepts his torture and slaughter because they have faith that God will give them life after death.
Mel Gibson gives us a character with similar faith in a new movie called Hacksaw Ridge. It’s a true story about an unarmed young man who endured a savage battle to save dozens of lives in World War II because he believed that God was with him now and in the afterlife. That kind of faith, like martyrdom for the sake of a pork chop, it feels like the faith of a child: "God just kisses you and says, 'Welcome aboard.'”
The gospel story is about a bunch of cynical Jews who are determined to take the hope out of Jesus' message. They don't believe in life after death, and so they pose a trick question to Jesus about the fate of multiple marriage partners in heaven. He ultimately answers them by putting his own life on the line, another mother's son put up for torture, while his mother watched him die. His followers initially reacted with the pessimism of my barber: “The world today…I don’t know what’s gonna happen.”
As I walked beneath a tree-lined path in the rising light of a new day, a sudden gust of wind came up and shook the boughs and branches above my head. A shower of golden and fiery-red leaves rained down, all around me, and I stopped. It was beautiful, breathtaking, like someone shook the stars out of heaven to rain upon my life. I picked one of the leaves up off the ground. It was orange and yellow and a little red, and all the green that had been hiding these beautiful shades was gone. Soon these leaves would turn brown, all their glory vacated, and the husks of their bodies would rot and crumble and turn to dust. And I thought to myself, what heaven takes this life, where goes the green of the maple and the silver gray of the olive leaf? For all the living blades of grass that die, and all the lower creatures who live and eat and reproduce and play amongst them, what place gives them home when death strikes them brown?
CS Lewis wrote a book called The Great Divorce, which is about a bus ride to heaven, and in it the passengers learn that heaven actually begins not upon arrival but during their time on earth. Every day they are all given the choice to abandon their cynicism, selfishness, egoism, and narcissism, and when they do they discover the garden all around them right here and right now, God smiling on them and saying “welcome aboard”. It’s God’s world, after all, and maybe they should not worry too much.
The same choice faces us as well. With no direct evidence---no voices in the night, no message written across the sky, no angels heralding with trumpets—in the face of nothing but an intuition and a hunch and the testimony of so many who have gone before us, you and I can choose to be like a child and take the leap of faith that someone, something, some force, some love has made it all happen and continues to do so, and will do so beyond this moment and this life. You can follow Jesus, who guarantees the hope for which all our hearts yearn.
It is in the autumn that death appears to gain the upper hand, and life seems to lose the earthly battle. But brown and black is never permanent, and the wind blows and the sun warms and what was dead raises its head up in defiance of the darkness.
It can even happen in the barbershop. When you leave with a new haircut from someone like Al, you feel better. You feel more confident, sharp-looking, like the handsome devil that you are. You are ready to meet the world, jumping on the clouds, doing cannonballs in the sky. As I left the barbershop, Al called out to me. “I hope you survive Tuesday.” “I hope we all do,” I replied. But we both knew deep down, that hope is assured. Regardless of what happens on Tuesday, “I think it’s gonna be like the most perfect place in the universe because God’s there and he won’t let there be anything bad…and you can just sit with him in the garden and even take a nap with him. ”
I don’t know how many more haircuts Al will give me, or how many more I have ahead of me in my life. But I’m pretty sure there will there be angelic barbers for me and him in heaven. And that will make Wednesday a pretty great day for me no matter what!
31st Sunday C 10/30/16 Wis11;2Thes1 ,Lk 19:1-10 HF 9:15 & 5pm SOS 12noon J Mayzik SJ
A friend in the movie business just told me that one of the films he recently worked on is coming out next week. It’s called “Loving”, and it’s a true story about Richard and Mildred Loving. One night several weeks after their wedding in Washington DC in 1958, the police showed up in their bedroom in Virginia and arrested them. Richard was white and Mildred was black and they were convicted of being an interracial couple and sentenced to a year in prison. The judge said "Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. The fact that he separated the races show that he did not intend for the races to mix." Their case eventually went to the Supreme Court and it was overturned ten years later. Those years in the US are often thought of as warm and wonderful times, but I was astonished to find out that a number of states had laws against whites marrying blacks or latinos or Asians up until the Supreme Court case in 1967.
In some ways I guess I shouldn’t be all that surprised. An older cousin and her husband just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, and their marriage was a bit of a scandal. You know why? She was Irish, and he was Italian, and although there were no laws against it, both families vaguely hinted that God would not look favorably on such a marriage.
Both cases have something to do with the age-old issue of keeping the ‘tribe’ pure, fear of anyone who comes from a different world, a different culture, a different history, a different world-view. In many cases individuals and whole peoples were and are demonized “They don’t think the way we do”, “all they care about is money”, “they’re all drunks”, “they’re a dirty people”, “they have no respect for our laws”, “they’re all freeloaders and welfare cheats”, “lock your car doors when we go through this neighborhood, kids”, “human life is cheap to them”, ”they are not the chosen people”. And of course there have always been insulting names and terms for the people in those ‘tribes’—be they Italians, Puerto Ricans, Chinese, Arabs, Irish, Poles, or people of different faiths, sexual orientation, races.
I did a little research on the Loving case, and I was happy to discover that the Catholic Church was instrumental in having those marriage laws reversed in the US. But our Church has not been entirely free of a kind of tribalism.
I was a public school kid, and that meant that I got my religious education at CCD classes at our church during release time every Friday afternoon. It wasn’t just us Catholic kids who were released. A bunch of us would be let out of school around 1pm, and two parallel lines of children would form in the parking lot outside the school. Father Murphy would be at the head of one line, and Reverend Springer (who was the minister of the Protestant church) would be at the head of the second one. We weren’t allowed to talk to one another, and when we were all assembled, the two lines of children would follow the sidewalks side-by-side down several streets until we came to this one particular intersection. As we crossed the street, Father Murphy would lead the Catholic kids off the right on our way to the Catholic Church, and Reverend Springer would peel his line of kids off to the left to go to the Protestant church. I’ve often thought that would be a great scene in a movie about life in those days, maybe a crane shot from high above as the lines of children separated in two different directions, a visual metaphor for the division of Christian believers. We were taught that we should never go to a Protestant Church (or a Jewish Temple for that matter), and that God clearly favored us Catholics here on earth as well as in heaven. We were discouraged from getting too close to anyone of a different faith, and there was a vague threat that we would in some way be contaminated by them if we did. And if anyone did stray from the faith and the tribe, it caused great anguish in families, and sometimes great division. That’s how tribes keep their members in check—they employ guilt or condemn or banish those who stray too far from the flock.
I love the story about Zacchaeus. First of all he was short, and I’ve always wanted to be taller. He got up in that tree to be able to see Jesus coming down the road. To the Jews of Jesus’ time, Zacchaeus was probably one of the most demonized and hated persons around. He was a traitor to the tribe because was a tax collector for the enemy, the occupying Romans. Worse, he got wealthy from the job, collecting more money from his own poor people than they owed and keeping it for himself.
But Zacchaeus was a real person, he wasn’t just a stereotype, he had a name, and like everyone else he was desperately looking for what was missing, a deeper meaning to his life. I’m guessing that he wasn’t exactly sure why he needed to climb that tree to get a better view Jesus. But he got up there, hanging on a branch, and Jesus looked up at him, saw the desire in his eyes, immediately called him by name and invited himself to have dinner at Zacchaeus’ house. And that visit caused quite a controversy. What was Jesus doing, going to that guy’s place? How dare he sit and have a meal with that traitor, that sinner, that despicable man? Jesus was challenging the norms of the tribe, risking condemnation and ultimately banishment.
But it was actually nothing new for Jesus. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is always opening his arms and his heart to the banished, the deplorables, the condemned, the untouchables, the abandoned, the outcasts, the contemptibles, the despised—the people who embarrass us, who are not in our tribe. And the truth is that down through the ages since Jesus walked the earth in the flesh, people have not liked that. How could he? Why would he?
We are guilty of the same fear, the same tribalism, and we while we declare ourselves to be good Catholics, we have often refused to accept the fundamental message about God that Jesus proclaimed, the message from Wisdom: For God “loves all things that are and loathes nothing that He has made; for what He hated, He would not have created.” The truth is, we are often frightened of people and things that are different; we can be racist, petty, selfish and resentful of those who seem to unfairly get more than their share of the pie. We can become vengeful and bitter and downright mean towards others who are not in our camp. We can be as small as Zacchaeus before Jesus embraced him and made him grow. The great scandal of the Christian church is that for centuries we have failed to follow the greatest commandment of Jesus—to love one another in Him. Jesus came to abolish tribal differences, but those who have followed him have done just the opposite. The divisions among Christians—Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, traditional, progressive—is contrary to his most essential teaching.
But we are also good people, we have the ability to warmly embrace the whole wide world, to let in others who are different; we can celebrate the rich diversity of the universe that God has made. We can follow the vision of Pope Francis who urges us to “go forth to the streets and to the crossroads…to the abandoned, the forgotten, the imperfect, the foreigner…no one excluded. Wherever you are, never build walls or borders, but meeting squares and field hospitals…” We can be a church, he said, "with the face of a mother, who understands, accompanies, and caresses."
One of those CCD marches from my childhood went contrary to the norm. On that particular Friday the children who lined up as usual behind Father Murphy and Reverend Springer didn’t look like good little Catholics or Protestants, whatever that might mean. Instead, we were Superboys, and princesses and witches and hobos and nuns and Frankensteins---and I think a few Beatles---because it was Halloween and we were going to be going trick or treating right after CCD classes. We walked single-file side-by-side on the usual route, our faces covered by our masks and makeup, and when we came to the point of separation, one little Catholic girl named Lauren Berardi was distracted by a wardrobe malfunction of her costume—a cape flew off her back in the wind---and she broke ranks to retrieve it, running into the street. A car was going by at that moment, and the driver desperately tried to avoid Lauren’s running figure, but she hit her. There was an awful chorus of shouts and cries as a crowd of ghosts and goblins and witches watched it happen, watched Lauren get throw across the road like a rag doll. While nearby adults ran to help Lauren, we children stood on the sidewalk, shocked by the violence we had just seen. Within minutes an ambulance appeared, and Lauren was taken away. The priest and the minister conferred for a moment, and then something amazing happened. We all followed them to the Protestant church, which was larger than our Catholic church, and a bit closer. It was the first time I had ever been inside a Protestant church. And all together we prayed to the same God and the same Jesus to save Lauren and to bring her back to health. We were not enemies, after all, when it came to such a difficult moment in life. And for many of us children, it was the beginning of a different understanding about what it really means to be a Christian.
It’s about inclusion, it’s about acceptance, it’s about Jesus calling us all out of the tree, “Zacchaeus come down…I’m hungry and I want to have supper with you, my friend.” Calling us ALL, everyone to the table: rich, poor, black, brown, white, yellow; EVERYONE: women, men, children, male, female, gay and straight; EVERYONE: Jew, Muslim, Hindu, atheist; EVERYONE: Republican, Democrat, Trumpite and Clintonite; EVERYONE: Irish, Italian, African-American, Indian, Korean, Philipino; EVERYONE: criminal and law abider, rebel and obedient; EVERYONE of us who are broken, incomplete, sinners, who are looking for the same thing Zacchaeus desired—the truth about who we are and who we are meant to be.
“Today, salvation has come to this house,” he said to Zacchaeus, and if we embrace our brothers and sisters with the same spirit of inclusion, it will come to ours as well.
Who do you think you are?
30th Sunday C 10/23/16 Sir3;Tim4;Lk18:9-14 SOS 9:15; HF 12:15 JMayzik SJ
I hit a lot of traffic and was late to a wedding rehearsal in Philadelphia, and when I arrived at the church there were no parking spaces anywhere. There were about 20 people including the bride and groom waiting for me inside, and my phone had died. I was getting frantic, and then I saw a spot very close to the church, and I was like, Thank you God, and I skillfully and quickly parallel parked. I ran into the church, and asked them to forgive me for being late and for not having had time to change into my clerical clothes to look like a priest, and then we did the rehearsal. When it was over about an hour later, I went back to my car and found a cop who was just finishing writing me a ticket. He pointed to a handicapped space sign that I hadn’t seen when I parked, and said pretty sarcastically, “Who do you think you are?”. I was about to try to explain, maybe throw the ‘priest card’ out there, but it was clearly of no use, and he shoved the ticket into my hands. “Have a nice night,” he said. I looked at the ticket. It was $400. Who did I think I was….well, definitely not someone who could afford a $400 ticket, and I felt pretty small and terribly guilty. I also tried to tell myself that I’m not such a bad guy, here I was doing this wedding all the way in Philadelphia, sacrificing my weekend, etc.. Who did I wish I was at that moment? Maybe someone important, not like one of the ‘little’ people.
I heard an interview the other day where President Obama was asked what he would miss most about being president. He didn’t hesitate to answer. “Air Force One. It’s always on time, they never lose my luggage, I don’t have to take my shoes off before I get on, and they take good care of me on that plane.” It’s one of the biggest perks that you get to have when you are president, but there are lots of others. I mean, they play Hail to the Chief whenever you enter a room… that’s pretty cool. I suspect after a few years—certainly after two terms—you’d get used to all the special treatment, and you probably begin to think you deserve it. I’m sure the transition to being a former president will be challenging for him.
Watching the debates, and considering the choices in front of us in a few weeks, I have been thinking about what kind of person makes it to that important office, and what kind of a person I would prefer. First and foremost you are supposed to be a public servant: it isn’t really supposed to be about you, but about us. Helping us all to live together in peace and freedom and prosperity. But to get to those stratospheric heights of power, to be the highest of public servants, you have to have a ‘healthy’ ego, a clear sense of who you are, and a pretty thick skin to endure the inevitable criticism. And I think that the job naturally attracts narcissists.
The word comes from the Greek myth of Narcissus, a handsome youth who falls in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. Since the time of the Greeks, a narcissist has been defined as someone who is extremely self-centered, arrogant and ‘perfect’; who brags and exaggerates their achievements; who seeks self-importance by diminishing, debasing, or degrading somebody else; who is hypersensitive to criticism or insults; who detests those who do not admire them or agree with them; who has trouble expressing remorse or gratitude; who has difficulty feeling compassion or empathy towards others. I think it is a rare candidate for president who doesn’t exhibit some of those qualities, and there are some who seem to have a lot of them. How can you truly serve the public if you are burdened with those issues of narcissism? How to sort out your narcissistic needs from the needs of the country?
I think about the Pope, who is in something of a similar position. He has great power within the Church, and indeed in the world. He doesn’t have much of an army, except the Swiss Guards, but his influence is enormous. And think about the perks and temptations of his office. In some ways they are greater than that of a president: he is more like a king. He serves for life, he doesn’t have to deal with a congress or a supreme court. He has a much more impressive palace to live in, and he can claim to speak for God, making pronouncements that are considered infallible. But at heart, his role is the same: he is meant to be a servant of God, for the people of God. Pope’s aren’t chosen the same way presidents are. But undoubtedly politics are involved, and throughout the history of the papacy there have clearly been some very clear narcissists in the job, which of course contradicts what we are called to be in the Gospel today.
The people Jesus had the most trouble with while He was on earth were the religious narcissists. The Pharisee in the Gospel was a perfect example. He was full of pride, so convinced that he was righteous and better than others. The Pharisee built himself up by diminishing, degrading and debasing that tax collector over there; he had no compassion or empathy for the man and judged him without knowing a single thing about him. Jesus told the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector to his companions, the Apostles, because he wanted to point out their own narcissism. They had rivalries and arguments over which one would be the greatest in the coming Kingdom. It wasn’t until they saw Jesus on the cross willing to go into total oblivion as the ultimate public servant that they then lost their narcissistic tendencies and became selfless and meek like John the Baptist who said, “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.”
There are still plenty of narcissists in the Church today. They often call out the sins of everyone else, and care more about being right than loving others. But true followers of Jesus always exhibit humility and serve others.
We are blessed to have a Pope who tries best as he can to follow the Gospel of humility. Like the tax collector, who beats his breast and asks for God’s mercy, Pope Francis answers the question, ‘who do you think you are?’ with almost everything he does: I am a servant of God. It has been so inspiring to watch him abandon the papal palace, the fancy meals, the big limousines. So inspiring to see him reach out to the poor, the abandoned, the lonely, the sick and the dying-- the little people, who can’t afford to be narcissistic.
As I stood there on the sidewalk in Philadelphia holding my very expensive parking ticket, I was upset, angry, and even depressed. I was tempted to be a little narcissistic at the moment.
And for some reason as I looked at my parking spot I thought about an elderly woman I had met a few years ago when I was working on a film in Brooklyn. (You may know that when I am not here on Sundays celebrating Mass, I make movies and teach filmmaking in Connecticut.). It was a special day for me because I was asked to play a small part in a film my friend was directing, and I was going to be acting with Christopher Walken. It wasn’t a big stretch for me: I was playing a priest in a nursing home. But that day I was one of the designated principal actors, like ‘star for the day’. It was just Chris and me, and I had my own dressing room, makeup artist, and was treated with a special parking spot.
The director, my friend Myles greeted me when I arrived and thanked me for being there, and brought me over to Chris Walken, complimenting us both on what he was sure was going to be a fantastic scene of acting.
I was pampered over in make-up and wardrobe, I was sequestered alone in my own dressing room, and I had people coming in to check on me, to make sure I was happy in every way during the long waits between the times when were shooting the scene. I had all the privileges on set---the attention, the careful respect, the way the crew catered to me, the special chair—all of that.
At one point I was getting a little bored waiting in the dressing room, so I decided to take a walk down a long hallway, and I saw a sign on the wall that read, “Holding”. A young assistant passed by and said, “There’s a bunch of old SAG (Screen Actors Guild) actors in there.” I opened the door—it was kind of a dreary, dumpy room of long tables and metal chairs—and it was filled with elderly men and women: the extras, who were playing elderly men and women in a nursing home. I had seen many of them already on the set, but hadn’t spoken to any of them. I wandered into the room. Some of them were reading books or newspapers, some were speaking quietly to one another, some were ‘resting their eyes’ for a moment, heads and arms on the table. Most of them looked pretty uncomfortable in the hard metal chairs. When I walked in, they all looked up, and I felt like an intruder. “Are you lost?”, one sweet little lady asked. “No,” I said, “I’m just exploring”, and she smiled. It was such a beautiful smile. We began talking a little bit, and as we talked, I saw that all eyes were on us, on me, and the others started chiming in. They wanted to know who the director was—“we’re not allowed to go up and talk to him,” one elderly man said. “How do you know Chris Walken,” another asked. And I began to hear their stories, which most were more than eager to tell: their lives as actors, comediennes—on the stage, in the Catskills, in commercials for television, as extras in films—mind you, most of them could have been my grandparents. Some of the stories were fascinating, and I was having a ball listening to them talk about the glories of their past stardoms.
The elderly lady who asked me if I was lost was named Sophie, and she whispered to me at one point, after I had been there a while, “You know, you’re really not supposed to be here…” and before I had a chance to respond, someone came in to the room to announce that lunch was ready. I accompanied them down the hall and into the elevator to the cafeteria, but when I got there and was standing in line with them for lunch, a very officious young woman came up to me and said, “You shouldn’t be here, “ and she grabbed my arm and accompanied me to the head of the line in front of all the elderly extras. When I realized what she was doing, I was appalled, and immediately I left the line, went to the rear and rejoined my companions. Sophie was standing there. She looked at me and said, “I was a principal actress on a film with Carey Grant It was…wonderful… I’ll never forget what he said to me: ‘Hey kid, did anyone ever tell you you’re gorgeous!’ He was kidding, of course… but… I felt like a queen!” And that same lovely smile came across her face, across the years, a remembrance of the promise of her youth. Then she smiled up at me: “It’s not so bad being one of the little people!”
Driving back home to Connecticut from Brooklyn, I thought about the strangeness of the day. It was fun being in the movie, but the whole hierarchy of the actors and the crew—the privileges and special attention--was unsettling and uncomfortable, especially because I am really not much of an actor. I’ve worked around movies enough to know about the whole star thing-—how they are catered to---but I guess I never realized how people are treated all down the line. That part was really not fun. As I drove on, I imagined Sophie on the set with Cary Grant, 30 or 40 years ago, radiant, and royally treated. And then I heard her say, again, “It’s not so bad being one of the little people!”
Back in Philadelphia, standing on the sidewalk with the $400 ticket in my hand, I saw the wedding party come suddenly pouring out of the church. Everyone was in a good mood, laughing and talking and even singing a little, on their way to a big noisy rehearsal dinner celebration. I was holding onto my anger, my bit of narcissism. I mean, if President Obama accidentally parked in a handicapped space, would they give him a ticket? I sighed for a moment, and then told myself, “Apparently today is not about me.”
It’s not just presidents or popes or apostles who are called out of our narcissism; everyone who follows Jesus, who is his companion is called to be a servant. We too must became selfless and meek like John the Baptist. “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.
It is only the sinner who can recognize how good God is to each one of us—no need for bragging, self-importance, arrogance; no need to tear others down; no need for special privileges. God’s love is more than enough, and we are meant to share it with everyone we meet.
Who do we think we are? God’s. We are God’s. Enough said.
I am here. I am here. I am here.
29th Sunday C 10/16/16 Ex17,2Tim3,Lk18:1-8 SOS 10:30; HF 12:15 &5pmJ Mayzik SJ
Are your Christmas tree lights a tangled, ugly mess? Do you spend hours hanging them only to find half the strands have burned out bulbs? And it’s the same old boring lights as last year! That’s why you need Tree Dazzler by Star Shower. Take your tree from ordinary to extraordinary in less than three minutes with the ultimate Christmas tree lighting extravaganza, Tree Dazzler by Star Shower!
Over and over again those words were working their way through my sleeping brain for I don’t know how long until I suddenly woke up to the sound of ooohs and ahhhhhs from perfect little children who were in an amazing swoon over the ultimate Christmas tree lighting extravaganza in their TV-set house. I had fallen asleep in front of the TV watching Stephen Colbert, and hours later CBS had given itself over to these persistent infomercials about Christmas tree lights, and I mean they were so persistent and loud that I couldn’t remain in la la land anymore. I felt assaulted by the ad, which kept telling me that I could create a dazzling light show in seconds for just $39.99 plus $9.99 in shipping. I looked over at the clock. It was 3 in the morning. I watched the infomercial for way more minutes than I should have, and it completely knocked the sleep out of me. What to do? Well, escape from the TV, for sure. Maybe I’ll go work out on the elliptical machine across the campus.
So I put on my shorts and sneakers and walked out into the crisp October night. The moon was shining, almost full, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It was mercifully quiet out there, and I stopped for a minute to register the contrast with the blaring television. The moonlight illuminated the grass and the road, and no one was around, except for… the deer that I suddenly noticed standing stock still a few feet away. I sneezed, and he went leaping into the woods nearby, and the world returned to its blue silence. I passed some houses, darkened from within, and imagined their sleeping inhabitants. What dreams were playing out under the covers of their beds? What murmurs arose, what cries of the heart pierced the silence of the night? The world asleep, but not necessarily mute. Still, it was a relief, at least to me. In a few hours with the light of day, the racket of our pleas, our yearnings, our sobs and our sales pitches would grow loud and as persistent as an infomercial.
Later, I would be bombarded with it all on my iMac, my iPad, my iPhone (Yes, it is Apple all the way with me.) On Facebook, a steady stream of voices crying out for my attention and my vote, I guess--often with great bitterness, anger and self-righteousness, certainly with respect to our ongoing political contest. Who wants to tell me how terrible, criminal, despicable this candidate is, who wants to say the exact same thing about the opponent? And in my Facebook feed, boy are those voices persistent and loud and ever more frightening! Some people seem to be obsessed with the contest, posting one message after another for their cause, trying hard to sell me and everyone else who are their friends on the Book of Face. And it’s not just politics. In this relatively new phenomenon called social media, so many people are raising their voices, sharing into cyberspace what they love, what they hate, what they wish for-- not unlike the flocks of migrating geese in the autumn skies, calling out over the earth mid-flight. Listen to me: I am here, I am here, I am here.
What are we really shouting about? Why the need to sell dazzling light shows, broken candidates, our latest rant? What is this need we have to share our fears, our hopes, our joys and our dreams? What do we really want?
And is anyone listening? Are we all just blathering away into the night, occasionally so loudly that we wake someone up and send them out into the silence of a moonlit night? Whose attention are we really trying to arouse, upon whose ears are we hoping our cries will fall?
I suggest that we hope it might be from our mouths to God’s ear, or rather God’s good heart. I suspect that most of what we really want to say is in some way meant for God. Listen to me: I am here, I am here, I am here. I need to know that I am not alone. I need to be healed. I need to believe that I matter. That I—that we—are loved.
From our hearts to God’s good heart. It’s prayer, explicitly or not that obviously. But is God responding?
There's nothing more frustrating than reaching out to someone who doesn't answer. What do you do if you leave a thousand messages and the repairman for your furnace never calls you back? What do you do if your friend never responds to your letters and E-mail? How do you feel when you pour your guts out to your husband or your wife or your best friend and it seems to be ignored or swept aside? What if no one seems to care what you say on Facebook, what if you receive no ‘likes’ for the important word you shared there? What if no one orders your Tree Dazzler for only $39.99? And most importantly, what about the times when you call on God for something, a little advice, some small help on a job interview or a test, a desperate plea for someone's safety or your child's health, what do you do when you say and pray and pray and say, when you shout and cry and plead and it seems as though no one's really listening, when your friendly words or angry demands or pathetic pleas seem to be swallowed up somewhere, into some black hole, all the prayers, pleas, cries, wails and moans swallowed up in a grand silence? What if there is no response to the wails from bleeding children of Aleppo, the screams of the ghetto, the weeping of souls who feel abandoned? Who will hold up the outstretched arms of our brothers and sisters in endless agony? Is God screening our cries and prayers and deciding which ones to answer in the morning? Could it be that God not only doesn't hear us, but doesn't see us either when we bleed or tear or grimace or flail the air with our angry fists?
But if God does see us and hear us, then why the silence? That is a problem, a very big problem, and sometimes it's understandable when people get angry enough to give up on God and stop believing.
That's what the readings are about today, about praying to God even when you seem to get no answers, the readings are about faith and persistence even when disaster appears imminent and everything seems against you. The lovely story of Moses on top of a hill holding up his arms and hands to God to ensure victory for Israel, plea-ing to God with his arms raised in the air for so many hours that he needed two strong guys to hold them up for him.
Then the Gospel story of the widow wearing out the judge with her constant plea to him for justice. Jesus says, look at her, take a lesson here, keep on praying and don't lose heart, even if at first you don't succeed, try try again. Send a thousand messages out into the darkness, overload the answering machines, keep those arms raised high in prayer, and some One will finally answer.
Do you believe that? Even though Jesus tells us to believe, it's understandable if you don't, especially if you've prayed and prayed and prayed a whole lifetime and you think you've got nothing to show for it.
To be honest, sometimes I have trouble believing it because I pray and pray all the time for a lot of things and it doesn't seem as though anyone's listening. I pray in the morning, and I pray in the evening and I pray every day at Mass--in a few moments at that altar, I'll be praying with you all for all kinds of things...for peace and unity and the end of suffering and the end of death, for the salvation of our souls and the salvation of the world, we pray and pray and we know that all over the world and in our very own parish--today--there will be fights and deaths and people in pain, disappointments and dashed dreams. Down all the years, every day, the messages go out and nothing seems to change much. So who's listening, and who's watching, and what are we doing here, anyway?
Prayer says a lot more about us than it does about God. It says that we are helpless and that we are fragile and that we are dependent. Because we are. There's not one of us here who can make our heart take its next beat, make our lungs take the next breath. We can't will it to happen, though we can will it not to happen. When we pray, we're acknowledging that fact, we are saying, with our arms outstretched, that we are not in control of the battle.
But wasn’t that the point of the whole story of Jesus? Didn’t God take our own our outstretched arms and make them his own in Jesus on that cross, “Father, not my will, but yours.” Did God hear him? Did God hear Jesus?
Does God hear us? I think so, and I think God responds all the time. With the next heartbeat, the next breath, with the next sunrise and the next moment of love. I think God responds to us when we pray in this church, and you can feel it at times, you know, when there is that good feeling in this place, when we all feel together here, in communion. For all the good things that happen to us in the day--the warm sunshine on our face, the smile of a little baby, the laughter of friends at a good joke, the taste of homemade macaroni, the kiss of the one we love upon our cheek, the smell of fresh laundry being dried, the melody of a lovely tune come to make us want to dance, the blue shine of the full moon upon the white windowsill--for all the small, hardly noticeable good things of our every day and every night, God responds to our prayers like a parent to a child. There to console us, there to be with us, there to encourage us, and most of all there to love us, especially when the bad things come our way.
The moon was full the other night, and out there under God’s autumn sky, millions of people were sleeping quietly. In some homes, infomercials were still aimed at those few restless souls that couldn’t find peace, hawking extravagant claims for Christmas tree lights. The feeds on Facebook slowed to a crawl with only an occasional rant about Donald or Hillary. But in many dark bedrooms, blessed with the sleep of night, God’s children of all ages were still dreaming of their hearts desires, and the source and Creator of everything in this good universe listened with ahhh great tenderness and love, raising each one of them up eternally in the arms of love. Rest easy dear hearts, and know that I am your God, and you are always mine.
Does God make the bad things go away--the cancer, the divorce, the failure, the bloodshed, the broken heart? No, the world and all of us still suffers for all our prayers, but the point is, God is with us nonethless.
Prayer, in the end, is about presence. We pray ultimately to be in the presence of Love, and when we pray, Love makes itself manifest, present. That is our answer, it is always our answer. The point is, up there, on that cross, all our cries and tears and moans and wails are taken up in love into those bloody wrists and feet and forehead and chest. For all the prayers that we think go unanswered, he offers us his love. Raise your hands to his outstretched arms and feel your prayer come answered: in the love of the Father, and in the love of the Son, and in the love of the Holy Spirit, all call screening answered, AMEN.
The faithful light.
28th Sunday C 10/9/16 2Kgs5,2Tim2,Lk17:11-19 HF 9:15; SOS 12Noon J Mayzik SJ
I was in the car the other day, dead stopped in a traffic jam, and I decided to turn off the radio, tired of all the political noise. I scrolled to Spotify on my phone, and the first song that came on was this one, from Cat Stevens:
And here are the lyrics:
Yes, I'm bein' followed by a moonshadow, moon shadow, moonshadow---
Leapin and hoppin' on a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow---
And if I ever lose my hands, lose my plough, lose my land,
Oh if I ever lose my hands, Oh Ayyyy I won't have to work no more.
And if I ever lose my eyes, if my colours all run dry,
Yes if I ever lose my eyes, Oh Ayyyy I won't have to cry no more.
Oh, I'm bein' followed by a moonshadow, moon shadow, moonshadow---
Leapin and hoppin' on a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow---
And if I ever lose my legs, I won't moan, and I won't beg,
Yes if I ever lose my legs, Oh Ayyy I won't have to walk no more.
And if I ever lose my mouth, all my teeth, north and south,
Yes if I ever lose my mouth, Oh Ayyyy I won't have to talk...
Did it take long to find me? I asked the faithful light.
Did it take long to find me? And are you gonna stay the night?
I'm bein' followed by a moonshadow, moon shadow, moonshadow---
Leapin and hoppin' on a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow---
Moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow.
It was one of my favorite songs from college days, and I became a great fan of Cat Stevens. His songs always had something to say, and they moved me deeply. The song is about acceptance even in the face of terrible loss—eyes, mouth, hands, legs! The song is also about gratitude because of the faithful light that is always shining through the loss.
It’s amazing how music can take you back. You hear a song from years ago, and suddenly you are back there, the memories broken open for you again: some particular moment, a favorite place, the color of the sky, the smell of the air, the people whom you have loved, the laughter and the hugs…spirits and times released from the drawers of your heart.
And when Moonshadow started playing in my car, I was transported back to the days of my youth, and especially to my friend Matt. He was the first friend in my life who had the courage to reveal to me that he was gay. It was especially courageous because in those days it was rare for someone to ‘come out’, and for good reason. Even in a place like New York, there was open bigotry, discrimination and outright hatred for people who were gay, and I’ll admit that even as Matt’s friend, it was a challenge to get my head—and most especially my heart--around it. And he told me about people who had distanced themselves from him when they simply suspected where he stood, without any confirmation from him.
As he told me his story, he helped me to understand the pain that it brought to him, his tortured attempt to shake it off, the rejection he feared from his family and friends, the fear that it would affect his career and all elements of his life.
And a few years later, just when he was growing into some self-acceptance and even compassion for those who were afraid of him, he suffered an even greater rejection and desertion when he was diagnosed with AIDS. This was in the early years, before people understood the disease and how it was transmitted, before they discovered the cocktail of drugs to help people survive. People were afraid to be near him, to even touch anything he touched. And some people condemned him-- sometimes openly, often behind his back.
It was not unlike the Gospel story of the lepers. They had been completely separated, excluded, kept at a distance so as not to spread the disease and contaminate the ‘clean’ people. They often had bells hanging on them—like cows--to warn people that they were coming.
I think the part of this story I like the most is the fact that Jesus didn’t do to them what everyone else did—he didn’t run away from them, or chase them away. In fact in Mark’s version, he actually goes right up to them and embraces them. It’s what Jesus always does to everyone who is excluded, to everyone who is judged ‘defective’, sick, all who are outcast because of some external or internal ‘disorder’. He embraces them, all of them, including the sinner, the criminal, the prostitute, reminding them to repent; for that matter, he embraces anyone who is ‘different’, alienated, unloved.
He embraces them, accepts them, he doesn’t judge them to condemnation, and in that embrace he demonstrates what love is all about. The embrace is actually much more than a ‘cure’. In that embrace, Jesus heals them.
There is a difference between curing and healing. When you cure someone you rid them of their disease.
Healing goes much deeper.
When you heal someone it is about restoring their heart, bringing them to human wholeness. When you are healed, you feel like a new person, and the natural response to that is always gratitude.
But to be healed, you have to let go of your self, you have to give yourself totally over to the healer, you have to accept the faithful light.
In the Gospel, Jesus cures 10 lepers and then sends them off to the priests, the very people who were in the forefront of judging their illness as a sin. The priests felt that surely they must be bad people because God had given them this disease.
Jesus wants the priests to acknowledge that those they have condemned are made in the image and likeness of God, like all of us. So he cures these outcasts, and they go to the priests—who you’d would think would be joyful, but they are actually more self-righteous and resentful of Jesus.
But then there is the issue of the 9 lepers who were cured of their disease but who didn’t come back to thank Jesus. They were cured, but maybe not healed. Healing brings gratitude, and only one of them was grateful. And he was a Samaritan leper, which made him doubly ‘defective’ because Samaritans were seen as pagans and were to be avoided at all costs. It was only the Samaritan who was able to open his heart to Jesus’ healing power, and he was flooded with gratitude.
Which brings me back to my friend Matt, and the song. I associate Moonshadow with Matt because of what I witnessed in him in his long, awful decline with AIDS. In Matt’s illness, he reacted initially with anger toward the disease, towards those who abandoned him, and towards God. That anger eventually turned into despair, but then to an acceptance: of himself, of the disease, of the suffering he experienced, and of God’s embrace.
Over a period of many months, I watched his health decline progressively, but at the same time, I witnessed a growing peace. I didn’t know it at the time, but in his dying, he was being healed. Many of those around him, including his health care providers, were consoled by his outreach to them, and his acceptance of his suffering. He taught me a great deal about how suffering could be redemptive.
One afternoon I arrived at his apartment and I found him attempting to cheer up a private duty nurse who was caring for him. At that point he had lost a lot of weight, was very pale, and looked pretty bad---a far cry from the handsome guy everyone acknowledged before his illness. Matt got up from his bed and danced a bit with the nurse, making fun of her steps, eventually making her laugh. He took every physical diminishment and its indignities and humiliations with the same perspective as in the song…if I ever have to lose my legs, I won’t have to walk no more; my mouth, I won’t have to talk no more; my eyes, I won’t have to cry.
Matt acknowledged that the faithful light of Jesus had found him, and in his deathbed he was leaping and hopping within it: moonshadow to moonshadow, day in and day out, something to sing about, or dance. At the end of it all, he knew that although his body was spent, he was healed. And like the Samaritan leper, he was oh so grateful.
Jesus comes to heal all of us, regardless of what others think of us, or what we think of ourselves. He comes to heal us even when we marginalize, alienate, judge and condemn one another.
It takes an open heart, a letting go, and soon enough you’ll see the shadow from his faithful light, to stay with you forever.
And when that happens, it is impossible to judge and condemn, to exile our brothers and sisters, to turn away from them. When you are grateful for being so loved, you need to love others, maybe like Jesus, especially the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the victims of war and oppression, those who are suffering and dying, those with whom are marginalized and all who are condemned as ‘defective’.
Gratitude for being loved is always is expressed in love for others. So how about you? Are you ready to be healed?
Keep the faith, baby.
27th Sunday C 10/2/16 Hab1;2Tim1;Lk17:5-10HF 10:45 ; 12:15 JMayzik
I was walking my friend’s dog the other day. We regularly go out together on long walks, hunting for squirrels. And usually we have the good fortune of finding a few along the way, which means that I am dragged behind her as she suddenly lurges into attack mode, always confident that she will actually catch the pesky critter before it scampers up a nearby tree. Of course she never does, and we spend some futile moments while she jumps onto the trunk of the tree, her head pointed up towards the upper branches where the squirrel is looking down, laughing his little butt off, naaah na nah naaaah na.
The other day we were doing just that at the base of a tree outside my office, which is above the garage on the grounds where I live. It’s a giant oak tree---I mean a GIANT one. Actually, until that moment, I hadn’t really noticed what an awesome tree it is. I tried to guess-timate how tall it is, and I think it could be at least ten, maybe fifteen stories high. I’m pretty sure if I climbed to the top branches and fell from up there, I’d die. This colossal, towering, magnificent tree…I’ll bet it has been there for a 100 years or more.
It is just one of millions of trees in Connecticut, and like all of them, I had taken it for granted. But looking at the massive trunk, its spine of central branches, the muscular spread of the offshoots, layers of green-leafed wings fluttering in unison this way and that in the breeze, well, I was mesmerized. Wow. This creature before me, planted in the good earth, reaching up as best it could to the heavens above, keeping the faith, day in and day out, fall to winter to spring to summer to fall again. It is being what it was created to be, the best possible tree: did it have even the slightest idea how it was inspiring me?
I was reminded of the poem, Advice from a Tree (paraphrased from Ilan Shamir) in which the tree says:
Sink your roots deeply into the Earth while reaching for the sky.
Reflect the light of a greater source.
Think long term.
Go out on a limb.
Be graceful in the wind.
Stand tall after a storm.
Be prepared for each season.
Be still long enough to hear your own leaves rustling.
Provide shelter to strangers.
Remember your place among all living beings.
I felt that this great oak was indeed somehow speaking to me about life: my life and the life of the world all around me. About keeping the faith from season to season, year to year, through storm and sun. I’m in the middle of a fairly big transition in my life, and sometimes everything seems topsy-turvy and it’s easy to lose your bearings.
As I stood peering up at the tree, an acorn came whizzing down and hit me right on the head. It’s been ejecting acorns quite a lot lately, and as I sit at my computer in my office, especially on windy days, they hit the roof above me and sometimes it sounds like I am under attack by enemy fire.
I picked up the one that hit me on the head. Acorns are sometimes called oak nuts, and they are a pretty important source of food for all kinds of animals-squirrels, birds, even deer. Their rich nutrients have also been important in the diets of people, including native Americans who used them to make soup and flour. But more importantly, inside the tough leathery outer shell is an oak seed, and they keep the Creator’s faith by growing into giant trees like the one outside my office.
Keeping the faith is what all the readings today are all about, God telling us in the first reading to hang on there, just hang on-- the “vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint’; St Paul telling Timothy to hang in there--the “spirit of God…will stir you into flame...make you strong, loving and wise’. And Jesus giving us a parable about the power of faith as small as a mustard seed. Or an acorn. It’s all about keeping the faith, baby, keeping the faith, and helping others out when the fire has been beaten out inside.
Tuesday is the feast day of St Francis of Assisi, whose faith was so humble, and yet so powerful. He was lit up from within by the fire of God’s spirit and he lit up the whole world around him—the whole world—with the love of Jesus that was flaming up inside him. Given what we know of him, I wouldn’t be surprised if Francis had conversations with the great trees of his day, and I’m pretty sure he would have been inspired by them as well. He was so in touch with the faith embodied in the creation all around him--Brother Sun, Sister Moon, and all the rest of it. It was said that the birds flocked to him, even the little sparrows listened to him. There’s that famous story where he preached to hundreds of birds about being thankful to God for their wonderful clothes, for their independence, and for God’s care of them. The birds stood still as he walked among them, only flying off when he said they could leave.
I have to confess something to you. For a long time I have been saddened by the seeming slow death of faith all around us, by the ways in which the Church has not seemed to matter to people anymore—especially young people. I can tell you that for most people 18 to 30, the Church is mostly irrelevant to them. They receive no life from it. And they have abandoned it in huge numbers. When confirmation comes to eighth graders, it often means graduation, and we never see them again in our church. And to tell you the truth, I don’t blame them. The truth of the matter is that the incredible love of Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Spirit has not been felt in the Church by many many people. For many, the Church has only been a place of obligation, of strict doctrine, of hierarchical obedience and clerical elevation, and, as Pope Francis has said, a place where you go to hear boring, interminable homilies ‘where you don’t understand a word of what they are saying’. It is often not a place of joy, or warmth, or acceptance, or sometimes even forgiveness. Despite the hunger we all feel deep in the core of our being, many do not perceive the church as a place to be fed.
But it goes deeper than just participating in the life of the Church. At a lecture about faith recently, the speaker was taking questions from the audience. One young man in blue jeans and a baseball cap and a troubled look on his face raised his hand. "What if you used to believe in God and everything, but now you can't?" he said. "How do you keep believing when all of that seems unbelievable?" He was clearly struggling with something, and the question was no academic matter. It's a question we, all of us, face--in a world where belief in the mystery of God is hardly ever proclaimed.
Did you ever have trouble believing? Not only in God, but maybe in a friend, or relative or co-worker after they let you down? Or maybe were you the one who didn’t keep the faith and let someone else down?
What does it take to keep the faith when your world is falling apart, when whatever dreams or hopes you had have disappeared? How do you believe in others, how do you believe in yourself, when even God seems to have given you challenges that are unbearable? Indeed, how do you keep the faith when the you look around and it seems like faith is nowhere to be found in the world, when people everywhere seem to be only looking out for themselves, their wealth, their own happiness? How to keep the faith when death takes away the people we love, and the economy takes away our house, when sisters and brothers fight over mom and dad’s little inheritance, when husbands cheat on wives and women choose to abort their babies, when political candidates and public officials are so corrupt, when neighbors murder neighbors over arguments that go back centuries, when race and sexual orientation are directly or indirectly used to attack others, when love is taken for granted or simply taken and never returned?
Well… there is the great oak tree outside out door, and its acorns. There are oak trees still to come.
"The vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint. If it delays, wait for it. It will surely come." I’m encouraged by the Pope, because for the first time this humble man is bringing us back to the real gift of the Church---the love of Jesus, the mercy of God, the care for the smallest and most insignificant of creatures among us, especially those most poor, most despairing, most lost. This Francis is reminding us what the Church was truly founded upon, and he is helping us to find our way back to it.
Keep the faith, baby, like St. Francis, who cut away all the complexity and saw things as they really are. God made us all in his love: birds, fish, dogs, humans…and God takes care of us all too. Look around you and see what he has made, keep the faith and let us, as the Pope asks of us, let us take care of one another in the love we receive from Jesus.
Most High, omnipotent, good Lord,
To thee belong the praises, the glory, the honor, and every blessing.
To thee alone, Most High, are they suited.
And no man is worthy of pronouncing thy name.
Be thou praised, my Lord, with all thy creatures,
Especially dear Brother Sun, who brings us the day, and through whom thou givest light;
And he is beautiful, and radiant with great splendor; he signifies thee to us, Most High!
Be thou praised, my Lord, for sister Moon and the stars;
Thou hast formed them bright, precious and fair in the sky.
Be thou praised, my Lord, for Brother Wind
And for air and cloud, calms, and all weather thou hast granted us.
Be thou praised, my Lord, for Sister Water, who is humble, and dear, and pure.
Be thou praised, my Lord, for Brother Fire, through whom thou dost illumine the night.
And he is beautiful, strong, and merry.
Be thou praised, my Lord, for our sister Mother Earth, who sustains us and holds us to her breast
And produces abundant fruits, flowers and trees.
Be thou praised, my Lord, for all your creatures, our sisters and brothers,
who inhabit this earth with us and bring us joy and make us sing.
Praise you, and bless you Lord. We give you thanks and serve you with great humility.
26th Sunday C 9/25/16 Amos6;1Tim6;Lk16:19-31 HF 9:15; SOS 7pm J MayzikSJ
I woke up one morning this past summer and had a little trouble focusing my eyes, even after I got my trusty glasses on. It was like intermittent blurriness, and for a few moments I had to keep blinking, closing one eye, then the other, until it finally cleared up. It just happened that I was going to my eye doctor that day because I wanted to get sunglasses for my walk across Spain on the Camino de Santiago, and so of course I mentioned the incident to the opthalmologist. He checked my eyes with all the latest equipment they use, and said that everything was fine. “Sometimes,” he said, “older eyes need a little time to get ready for the day when you wake up. It’s like an old car—you’ve got to let it warm up before you drive.” I didn’t like being compared to anything old, especially a car, and I like my car and my eyes to be ready to go as soon as I turn on the ignition. But these eyes have seen a lot, and they have been good to me, and I hope to see a lot more with them, so I try to take care of them.
My mother and my father both suffered from macular degeneration, small strokes in back of the eye that prevent blood and its life-giving oxygen to feed the cells of the retina. Without that nourishment, the center of your retina dies, and you are left with mostly peripheral eyesight. Most of what you do see are vague shapes of darkness and light, like shadows against a wall. For my mother, it meant loss of one of her most beloved activities—reading. For my father, it prevented him from watching TV and fixing and building things around the house. At times it was difficult to watch their lives and their spirits diminish dramatically as they gradually lost their sight.
For me, loss of sight would be more challenging than if it happened with any of the other senses. I could deal with loss of smell, taste, touch…and being deaf would be tough, but being blind? I’m sure I’d be yelling at God a lot. To not be able to see the faces of the people I love, the awesomeness of towering mountains, rolling seas, fiery fall foliage, the world transformed with a blanket of snow, movies(!), the afternoon light gently spilling upon the windowsill, dogs and their wet noses, the blue blue sky, mighty New York skyscrapers, the spontaneous smile of a child, a spider’s magnificent web, Christmas lights…wow, it would be hard. So having a moment one morning where I was having trouble focusing, well, it was definitely a little scary.
And even though I got a good bill of health from the eye doctor, when I was on that month-long walk in Spain, I wondered if my focus isn’t always so clear. I think I do miss things that I should have been able to see. Maybe it is old eyes that are the problem. Almost every day in the kingdom of my life I fail to see things that are all around me, most especially the unpleasant things.
There’s the story of Lazarus, sitting with open sores and open hands in the gutter. Jesus tells us how the rich man passed him every day and never noticed him, until of course when he dies. Then he finally sees Lazarus… in heaven, while he suffers in the hell of his own making.
Children with young eyes never miss seeing Lazarus in the gutter, and they never let us ignore them as we often do. When I walk through a day with a child, she sees for me what I miss. “Why is that man sleeping on the sidewalk, Uncle Jimmy? He must be cold.” The hearts of children love more easily, and they break more mightily as well, and they teach us more purely the lesson that Jesus meant for us to learn in this lovely story of Lazarus. Unlike the rich man, maybe Jesus wants us really see the world as it really is before it is too late: trade out our old, tired, fear-filled eyes and heart for something younger, more revealing.
I was going through some papers and found a letter from a former student. He had visited Guatemala, and in the letter he was describing the poverty of the country: how little money people have, how so many live in shanty houses with no running water and no heat, how meager is the food they have to eat and how hungry they are. And he recounted an incident that had just happened there.
Five children—all of them about 6 or 7 years old---were looking for some food. And outside of the city where they lived there was an enormous garbage dump. They didn’t have any sophisticated landfill system, nothing like here where they cover over the garbage with layers of dirt and contain it with all sorts of techniques. No, in this dump in Guatemala it was just raw garbage--piled higher and higher with no management at all, producing a stink far worse than we’ve ever experienced. And the five little children went to the dump one day--not to play or fool around. They went to the dump like a lot of other people did, to find something to eat, because they were hungry. And as they were scavenging around for foodin the dump, a huge part of the mountain of garbage suddenly gave way, and it came crashing down---filthy, stinking, rotting refuse of human living---it came crashing down right on the little children, and it buried them all, tons of garbage covering all five of them. It was horrible. It took quite a while to get help for them. And the worst part about it was this: when the authorities were able to dig down to where the children were, they found out that the garbage itself didn’t kill them from its impact on them. They were buried alive, and they had lived for a while, in the darkness of the stinking garbage that covered them.
Although I had read this letter and its story a number of times in the past, it had me choked up all over again when I re-read it.
These garbage dumps, they’re all over the world. I experienced one myself in the middle of Manila when I was on a service trip with some students about 8 years ago. It was impossiblefor these old eyes to ignore what was before me, and they wept at what they saw. It was the worst poverty I had ever seen: cardboard and tin shacks, raw toilet sewage running down the dirt paths outside the houses, skeletons of starving dogs walking around, children in filthy, torn clothing, obviously hungry.
But Lazarus is not just in Guatemala or Manila or Zimbabwe or Aleppo. He sits at the front of our own gates in Detroit, on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in South Dakota, in Biloxi, Mississippi, upstate New York, in the Mott Haven neighborhood in the Bronx, on the sidewalks of Manhattan, or right here in Stapleton. And our tired eyes often have trouble seeing him from the high seats of our SUV’s, even if we almost trip over his body on the sidewalk.
And most of us can’t see how our blindness contributes to his existence all over the world. You’ve heard the statistics. We live in a nation that has 5% of the world’s population, but we consume 25% of the world’s resources. Because we are almost brainwashed into believing that we need more and more, we fail to see how our desires keep our brothers and sisters in faraway lands living on pennies a day. It’s great to be able to buy new skinny jeans at Macy’s or H & M on sale, but the bargain comes to us on the back of a woman in El Salvador who earns 56 cents an hour and barely has enough money to feed her children at home.
We have good intentions, for sure, and there are many who devote themselves to helping the lives of their brothers and sisters who suffer like Lazarus. There are wonderful non-profit organizations like ‘One’ which was created by Bono from U2, which tries to help more than seven million people who live in extreme poverty around the world. Or like Results, which works to end childhood starvation and tries to find permanent solutions for every cast off Lazarus here in our nation and in the world.
But many of us still have trouble seeing.
It’s not about our eyes, of course, it is about our hearts, which sometimes lose their focus with age or hard learning. It is our hearts that Jesus wants to touch. It is our hearts that Jesus wants to convert before it is too late. We need to look up from amidst our own wealth, look up and around like little children, we need to focus on Lazarus, lest God’s justice send us forever and ever into the darkness of the night of our own making.
I want to share one final story.
A few years ago as I was sitting on a bench in a park on the west side of Manhattan, I came across a small drama and a wonderful revelation. Several young boys were playing together nearby. I didn’t pay much attention to them at first, but I began to take interest when an apparent dispute arose. One of the boys was clearly the alpha, taking charge of the group, issuing the rules of play and directing the team’s activity. I didn’t see what happened to provoke him, but he very bluntly and directly expelled one of the kids from the game. I watched the kid stand to the side, looking very alone and small. At first I couldn’t tell how he was taking it, until he turned his face away from the field and in my direction, and then I could see the tears silently streaming down his cheeks. I wanted to go over to him and say something, but I was either too timid or too worried about how that would look, and so I just sat there and tried to look away. He’ll get over it, I thought. It’s just what happens to kids.
But then I heard a voice, coming from a bench some feet away. “Come here, son”. I could see he was an older man, white hair, neatly dressed. The boy hesitated a moment, wiping his eyes. “Here, just for a second, please”, the man called out again. The boy walked over to him slowly, and stopped right in front of him. I made a point of watching this meeting in case the guy was a nut or something worse. I couldn’t hear what the man was saying to him, but the boy listened intently, and nodded a few times. Then I saw the man reach out with his elderly hand to pat the boy’s head. The boy said something to the man, and then turned and walked back to where the other boys were playing. He stood there for a few more minutes, and when the game appeared to end, two of the boys went over and joined him. I guessed that they felt badly about how their friend was ejected from the game. In a few minutes they all left together, taking their cries and shouts with them, leaving the park to the sound of birds, and the distant din of the city. I was about to get up and leave, when I saw the elderly man get up off his bench. He stood for a moment, and grabbed something out of the inner pocket of his jacket. He unfurled it, and I saw that it was one of those collapsible poles. I watched the old man negotiate the sidewalk, feeling the ground just ahead of his steps with the pole. Slowly, he wandered away from me, and from the park. I stayed a few more minutes, reflecting on how a blind man had somehow ‘seen’ the sadness of a little boy in the park, and how he had done what he could to remind him that he was loved.
And I had no doubt in my mind that when the time came for him to be called home by God, he would be one of the lucky ones to be carried by angels to the bosom of Abraham. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. I will make darkness into light before them And rugged places into plains.
Having it all.
25th Sunday C 9/18/16 HF: 12:15,5pm SOS 7pm JMayzik SJ
We were getting some pizza in a restaurant in Manhattan, an excuse to catch up with a long-time friend. I had warned him that the place wasn’t too fancy, but the pizza is awesome. I like it because it is so simple: great super thin crust; secret tomato sauce recipe, rich in flavor; and some very fresh mozzarella. Piping hot and a little charred right out of the brick oven. What more could you want? Well, maybe a beer or a glass of house red wine. Perfect, right?
He liked it, although I think he was a little put off by the shabbiness of the place. He has risen up in the world, and this was a bit of ‘slumming it’ on his part. We got around to talking about our families. His dad had recently passed away, following his mom. I asked him about how everyone was doing, his brothers and sisters. There was a pause, and a weary sigh. “Not a great story there,” he said.
It wasn’t what I thought: difficult grief for a family that was very close. Instead, it was about the warfare that had erupted regarding his father’s house and estate. One of his sisters is living in the house, has been taking care of her father for a number of years. She wants to stay, but other siblings want cash for their share of the house, and they want it now. And there are problems with the will, disputes because some felt they are being cheated. Wives and husbands are involved (the in-laws), telling their spouses to be sure to get their rightful share. A big fight broke out Labor Day, with screaming and yelling, and someone got pushed and fell down some stairs. The police came. “I couldn’t believe it was my family,” my friend said. “It felt like something on the Maury Povich Show”.
Talking about it had gotten him upset, and for a moment I wasn’t sure what to say. “Gee, I’m sorry,” I finally said. We fell silent again for a few moments, reaching for another slice of pizza. I looked out the window and saw a young guy across the street, sitting on the sidewalk. He had a sign, asking for money. “That’s ironic,” my friend said. I looked over at him. He wasn’t looking at the homeless guy. “What is?” He pointed to the speaker in the ceiling. “It’s the theme song for the Apprentice”. I wasn’t really paying attention to the song, but I listened. I’ve never watched the show, but I guess the theme song is an oldie, it’s For the Love of Money by the O’Jay’s. The first line is “Money…money, money, money, money, money; some people got to have it, some people really need it…”. I checked it out. As the show opens you hear the song, then these words appear on the screen: “What if… you could have it all”, followed by images of personal jets, stock market ticker prices, beautiful women, casinos, and 100 dollar bills.
Money, money, money, money, money, money.
Most of us do have it all, or at least some version of it, right? I mean, it may not be quite like the dream on The Apprentice, but I don’t think anyone here really wants for clothes, food, a house or apartment, heat or hot water, furniture, a car, a cellphone, a flat screen TV, a vacation trip, a night out for a meal/movie/game/concert…and lots of other things. Compared to other people in the world, we do have it all, and wish for more. There is a kind of power in having it all. It gives us comfort and prestige. But here’s the catch: the more we get, the more we think we need. And it is never-ending.
I read a recent study that said the wealthier people are, it does two things for them: 1) their faith is less important to them, and 2) they feel less secure than they did before. When you have it all, you don’t need God so much, and you worry more about losing what you do have.
I think that rings true for us. The American creed we profess says that you can and you should… ‘have it all’. But despite all the good stuff we have these days, we’re not just sitting pretty. We’re scared, we’re worried about losing our place in the world, we’re not all that hopeful. Listen to the rhetoric of the election contest going on right now. And look what is happening to our families when the money is up for grabs. And look at our church. 50 years ago there would have been a lot more people here. 50 years ago you would have seen a lot more younger people here.
Today’s readings give us two insights into our situation. First, we hear Jesus say that “no servant can serve two masters… you cannot serve both God and… money money, money, money, money, money.” And second, the Psalmist says, “He raises up the lowly from the dust; from the dunghill he lifts up the poor to seat them with princes, with the princes of his own people: Praise the Lord who lifts up the poor.”
Three days after Pope Francis was chosen, he said something that has become a constant refrain wherever he goes: “How I would like a church that is poor, and for the poor!” He chose to name himself after St Francis of Assisi because ‘he is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man…”.
Why a church that is poor? When you are poor, when you don’t have it all, you depend on something that goes much deeper than the latest iPhone you can’t afford. When you are poor, you realize that you can’t pretend to really be in charge of your life. When you are poor, you can feel God’s arms holding you when the storms that come into everyone’s life rage all around you. When you are poor, you can find meaning in your life from the real treasure that surrounds you in your family and your friends. When you are poor, you can relate to the poorest one of all, Jesus, who had nothing, who willingly gave everything away, even his life, to show us how to really ‘have it all’.
Why a church for the poor? Because, as Pope Francis says, “they have much to teach us…in their difficulties they know the suffering Christ…the poor lead us to Him, and we need to listen to them, to be their friends, and to embrace God’s wisdom which He shares to us through them.” That’s why he has reached out to the poor of Rome, or Manila, or Brazil or NY: he has listened to them, eaten with them, embraced them and he lends his voice to their cause, as he urges us all to do as well. Jesus, the ultimate poor man, who gave away everything he had, perhaps it’s easier to find him when you are poor, when you are with the poor.
For ten years I took students to a very poor region of eastern Kentucky and we worked on repairing and building houses there for people who had very little of anything. But in all the places I have been in my life, I have never met such generous people. Generosity is the offspring of gratitude, and the people who lived in the little town of Inez were such grateful people. They were grateful that God provided them with what most of us here would reject as unsuitable, way below any decent standard of living. It was astonishing to see how their gratitude was lavished on us--relatively rich white folks from the northeast. They fed us, entertained us, welcomed us and loved us as their brothers and sisters in the Lord. We thought we were the ‘givers’ when we went down there to help them, but the truth is that we were the most blessed of all.
When we had nearly finished our pizza, I needed to tell my friend about Auntie May, who lived all 95 years of her life in Inez Kentucky. Every year when I went back there with a new crop of students, Auntie May would invite us to her home. She was the last one of 14 children, and her life had been tough. She had worked hard all her life picking tobacco, lived in a shack of a house, lost her husband and her only child in a terrible accident years before, never once had the money to afford a car or even a television. But she had her Jesus, whose picture was front and center in her house as soon as you entered. Every year Auntie May would cook my students a meal of chitlins and cornbread and collard greens, and it was delicious.
But what came with the meal was much more nourishing. She’d talk and talk about ‘my guy’, who had taken care of her all her life, been at her side in all her hardships, who saved her, she said, from her own dumb decisions. Her old eyes lit up as she talked about him, you could feel the love coming out of her heart, and all the kids in the room fell under the spell of her words about her man. It happened to me every year when that moment inevitably came and she talked about ‘my guy’. That first year I assumed she was talking about her husband, until she went over to the picture on the wall and touched it with her wrinkled fingers: “my guy”. She was in love with Jesus, and she shared that love with everyone she met. She served all of us, she said, as she would serve him. I told my friend that the last year I went down to Kentucky with a student group, I discovered that she had died. Her funeral, they told me, was of legendary proportions. Hundreds of people came from all over the county, and they honored the love they had met in her. She left no will. Her house was worthless. There was only one treasure she left behind. It was that picture of “my guy” on the wall. No one fought over it, and it hangs today in a special place in the little church she attend every year of her 95 years on this earth.
When I left the restaurant, remaining pizza slices in my doggy bag, I passed the spot where the homeless guy had been begging. He was gone. I prayed to Auntie May to send her guy to him that night.
Running, arms wide open.
24th Sunday C 9/11/16 Ex32,1Tim1,Lk15:1-32 SOS 9:15 J MayzikSJ
I love New York. Always have, always will. When I have lived elsewhere, those places are always measured against the standard of New York City, and I have to tell you, nothing comes close. Some people don’t understand it, my love for the city, even some people who live here. But especially people from the heartland, from mid-America, from the Midwest. While they may enjoy visiting and seeing the sights, many would never want to live here. They find the place too unfriendly, too harsh, too fast. Meaning they think that we are hard-hearted, mad-looking, discourteous and rude. I understand the reason for that reaction. I think it’s easy to see all of us that way. We’re busy, there’s a lot we are dealing with, and when we’re little we’re taught not to smile too much at strangers, not to trust people too easily. And when we perceive that someone disrespects us, or has in some other way offended us, well sometimes we do exhibit some aggressive behavior, road and parking lot and checkout line rage. “I’m walking here, I’m walking hereeeeeeee!”
In the Midwest, and in the South, people actually are pretty polite to one another, even strangers, and you’d be surprised how many people smile at you as you pass them on the sidewalk, say hello to you for no good reason at all except to be friendly. They even ask for your forgiveness a lot. Here’s an example.
Years ago, I was at a small dinner gathering in the dormitory apartment of a Jesuit friend of mine at Georgetown University. There were five of us, and I sat across from Bill Clinton, who was a mere governor then of the small state of Arkansas and a very remote choice to become a future president. It was a pleasant evening, with some talk of politics, but mostly conversation and tales about the school of which we were both alumni.
At one point when several conversations were taking place simultaneously around the table, I asked him a question—I can’t recall now what it was about—but he couldn’t hear me. Even then he had a hearing problem in one or both of his ears (he wears hearing aids now). He leaned over the table towards me and said, “Sorry?” For me it was an odd sounding phrase to use in such a situation, but it instantly reminded me of a childhood friend, Billy Candler, who was also from the South, and who also used the same polite one-word phrase when he had misheard something that was said to him. I concluded that night that it was a southern thing, and that it went along with other such southern polite-isms like ‘Yes M’am’ and ‘No M’am’ and ‘Thank you kindly’.
I mean, we can be forgiving at times too.
My own mother, a native New Yorker: if my mother didn't hear something you said to her, or maybe couldn't believe her ears at what was said to her, she'd always ask, "I beg your pardon?". My mama was a lady, and so she'd never say "WHAATTT?" in that kind of a situation, but it's an interesting phrase that we use, you know--'I BEG your PARDON". It conjures up an image of someone on their knees, hands together, pleading for their life to a judge or an executioner.
One of my favorite films is an oldie, a movie called ‘A Thousand Clowns’, about a guy who is quite a character, a New Yorker, who has kind of messed up his life. He needs to ask forgiveness of the woman he loves and the nephew he adores, but he can’t quite screw up the courage. So he goes out to a busy street corner in Manhattan in the middle of the day, and begins randomly apologizing to anyone walking past him. "I'm very sorry, sir," "Forgive me, Madam,", "I beg your pardon," "Sorry, buddy", “Oh, I’m so sorry, sir”. Later on he recalls to someone what happened: “It was amazing!…Some people just gave me a funny look, but…I swear, seventy five percent of them forgave me…’That’s OK, really’, ‘Don’t worry about it, guy’, ‘No problem’…Oh, it was fabulous. I had tapped some vast reservoir…I simply said to them, ‘I am sorry’, and they were all so generous, so kind…”.
It was a pretty funny scene in the movie, and it made me wonder about it, and I even conducted a similar test myself once, on the streets of New York, with a similar result. Some people looked at me like I was a nut, or ignored me all together, but most uttered some form of forgiveness. And I concluded that, at least in public, we're actually much more forgiving than is our reputation in the rest of the country and even the world.
15 years ago today, right around this time, I watched the attack on the World Trade Center live on television, along with millions of other people. The first image I saw was of the faint smoke coming out of the first tower after what appeared to be a small plane crash into the building. A few minutes later, I watched the second jet slam into the other tower, and shortly thereafter, I saw both buildings collapse and disintegrate into the ground.
The whole thing was so hard to believe. As I watched the attack on the towers on my TV, I had two simultaneous reactions—sorrow and tears, and very very strong anger.
Only a week before I had been in a helicopter that was filming the city, and we had circled the towers so close up that I was able to see the people working inside the offices. And at one point we just hovered over the center of Manhattan, just sitting there in the air, and I could literally see the whole city from that God-view vantage point: there, the Bronx, there Queens, and flowing right into it, Brooklyn, and over to the right, the island of Staten, and of course Manhattan right below us. That God’s eye view inspired me deeply in weeks after the attack—to think of us all together, all of us united in our shock and our grief and our desire to help one another. One city, one people. And seeing the bridges and tunnels that knitted us geographically together I was inspired to write a screenplay called Bridges and Tunnels about a group of diverse people from every borough who are forced to see each other as one family.
But there were other feelings that came out of that tragedy. Resentment, anger, rage. And maybe the most powerful: a desire for revenge. And it felt good to go after them. And of course when we did, it didn’t exactly turn out how we hoped it would. For us hard New Yorkers, of all people, we would be expected to seek revenge, and to forgo forgiveness. And even now, 15 years later in the midst of a presidential campaign, the wounds are still tender, the heartache lingering, the mistrust high. It’s pretty hard to be forgiving, especially if it appears that there is no remorse or sorrow or regret or contrition. Are we supposed to forgive people who have gone out of their way to kill us? How could anyone really bring themselves to forgive that?
But sometimes it’s just as hard to truly forgive even the people we know and love. There was a line from another movie years ago which kind of caught on for awhile--'Love means never having to say you're sorry", and I guess the implication of it was that you never really have to apologize, beg the pardon of, say you're sorry to the ones who are closest to you--your wife or husband, brother or sister, mother or father, relative or close friend. If you love someone, they're supposed to understand in love, and forgive in love, and so you never have to say you're sorry. My father was sort of like that—I can’t recall a single time when he actually said the words, “I’m sorry”, for anything he did out of anger or mistake. He would come around and maybe show his sorrow in another way—very indirectly—but never the words, never a direct acknowledgment of wrongdoing. And I might add, I was never very good at forgiving him.
Today’s Gospel obviously has something to say about all this. It seems to be giving us a different line: “Love means always saying--‘you're forgiven'”. The father in the story, that old man who could barely walk, who was so disrespected by his prodigal--excessive, wasteful, spendthrift, ungrateful son--that old man didn’t turn him away with a hardened, revengeful heart. He went running to the kid the moment he saw him coming back down the road, arthritic knees, bad heart and all. It should have been the other way around, but 'love means always saying ‘you're forgiven',” and tears in his eyes, that old man ran to his son out of forgiving love.
Why is it so hard to forgive the people we love, and why is it so hard to beg them for forgiveness? "I'm sorry," "I'm so very sorry,". "That's O.K., forget about it," "I understand, no problem". It's pretty easy to beg forgiveness when you obstruct someone’s way in the aisles of Stop and Shop, and it’s easy to grant it. But sometimes it seems impossible to do either with someone we love. Think about it. To whom in your life today, to whom do you really need to say, ‘I'm sorry, I'm so so sorry’ for what I did or didn't do or what I did or didn't say? On this beautiful Sunday, who do you need to forgive--maybe for something that was said or done a long time ago?
I can think of quite a few people who deserve a really good apology from me, and I've been nursing a few good hurts from those among my family and friends--to whom I should go running in forgiveness. I think I have a harder time forgiving those who hurt me than apologizing to those I've hurt, and I'm struggling to find a way to get over it. It's really hard to do.
It's hard to do because of one simple fact that you and I have not truly grasped: we don't really believe how much we are loved by the One who created us. The fact is that we are always resting in the bosom of God's love--even in the best of times, even in the worst of times: God loves every single fiber of our being, every little imperfection, every quirk, everything about us God loves. But we don't really believe it. If we really believed it, we would have no problem asking for forgiveness from our imperfect brothers and sisters; if we believed it, we would have even less of a problem forgiving them as well.
Like Jesus, who was the Prodigal Son in another sense. If to be prodigal means being excessive, immoderate, extravagant and wasteful, then Jesus was the Prodigal Son because he squandered his love on the very people who most needed it--sinners like ourselves, the very people the Pharisees were complaining about when they criticized him for eating with them. Jesus was prodigal with his love on people like us--all the way to the cross. And he was able to forgive even his torturers because he knew how much the Father and Creator loved him. Jesus is the example for us of how to forgive strangers and the ones we love most. I’m not saying it’s easy. And I’m still not sure how to apply this to the anniversary we are remembering today.
But I do know this. Here we are, on the street corner of our lives, God the Father, Jesus the Son and Holy Spirit surrounding us, loving each one of us, no matter, no matter what. I’m sorry, we say….we say I’m sorry….we say we are really really sorry…I’m very sorry…I beg your pardon, my apologies…for all the ways in which I have failed to love everyone and everything…and Jesus, the Father and the Spirit come running, arms open wide, running running to wrap us up in the love that satisfies like nothing else in our lives, and we are safe, and content, and free.
The Way Through.
23rd Sunday C 9/4/16 Wis9;Phil9;Lk14:25-33HF 9:15, 10:45; SOS 7pm JMayzikSJ
You may have seen something ‘Heaven Sent’ from National Geographic online about a month ago. It was pretty amazing. Actually it was astounding. A guy named Luke Aikens jumped out of a plane 5 miles up in the sky without a parachute, a wingsuit, or anything else that might help him stop or slow him down. He aimed for a 100 ft by 100 ft net on the ground, falling at 120 miles per hour, flipping and rolling over backwards 200 feet away from net so he could land onto his back. He called the leap “Heaven Sent” and said “I’m out here to show that there are ways to do things that people think are insane and aren’t able to be done.”
And…he made it, without a scratch, walking away from the net with a big smile on his face. If you want to see it, just type “Luke Aikens” into Google.
There are many people around the world who are engaged in similarly crazy (and some would say reckless) things. In fact, there are organized activities called Extreme Sports, with people BASE-jumping off buildings and antennas and mountain tops, hanging off kites, climbing the sides of cliffs without any equipment, surfing gigantic waves, doing extreme skiing, waterfall kayaking, racing at crazy speeds in trucks, boats, cars, surfboards, snowmobiles. There is a movement called Parkour, where people try to move rapidly over roofs, fences, barriers and other obstacles by running, climbing, jumping and sliding crazily onto railings, poles, fire escapes, barrels…pretty much doing what Daniel Craig does as James Bond when he is pursuing bad guys on the rooftops of Paris.
All of these activities are, to say the least, risky and very dangerous, and every year a number of people die in the process of trying to accomplish them. They say “I’m in”, and mean it, even to the ultimate end.
I can relate to it, a little bit. I have jumped out of a perfectly good working airplane three times from a height of 3 miles in the sky—but each time with a parachute, and oh, a guy strapped on my back who knows what he is doing when he jumps out of an airplane. Each time I also recall standing at the doorway of the plane, looking down three miles to the good earth, and asking myself: What was I thinking? Why am I doing this again?
Why do people do these things---acts that go against our natural human instincts of self preservation? Why are some people turned on by that stuff, what are they looking for by jumping out of airplanes, climbing Mt. Everest, enduring the Ironman course? Why are there so many ‘groupies’ who—if they don’t have the courage or physical abilities to do it themselves--are almost addicted to following the ‘stars’ of these activities? There are many websites with lots of astounding videos to watch, and there are even Olympic-type Extreme Sports events that are broadcast to huge audiences around the world.
I did a little research on the topic. People who engage in such activities are obviously risk-takers, the quality that is often associated with our best inventors, entrepreneurs and explorers. Some of them do it because they are clearly adrenaline junkies, and need to take extreme risks to make their lives seem less boring. Others may want the satisfaction of accomplishing something really outstanding, and the good feeling of receiving newfound respect from family, friends and co-workers. And for those who are simply spectators, they feel inspired and empowered just by sheer association with those who are flying through the air.
But deep down, it seems that many have a kind of hunger, are looking for a kind of answer to the existential questions that our world raises for each of us now more than ever: Who am I? What is my purpose? What does it mean to be truly alive? The WFPF (World Freerunning Parkour Federation) states that “Parkour is fundamentally a philosophy, and a way a life. It’s a way of looking at any environment and believing in your heart that there is no obstacle in life that cannot be overcome, a ‘way through’ for us all.”
2000 years ago, without airplanes and hang gliders and surfboards and racing cars, people were looking for much the same thing that we want in our lives. And when Jesus came along, he aroused something like the kind of excitement that Parkour and Extreme Sports does for some of us today. In fact, he had quite an enthusiastic bunch of ‘groupies’ who literally followed him around, hoping that some of the thrill they sensed in proximity to him might rub off on them. He appeared to be ‘a way through’ for them.
I have a phrase that I often use when people talk to me about goals they have for their lives. It’s easy to remember: ‘people do what they want to do’. Sounds simple, right? You tell me that you want to stop eating those delicious blueberry scones at Starbucks (490 calories each), you tell me that you’re gonna work out three days a week at the gym, you tell me that you’re going to clean out the garage or the basement or the attic that is full of junk from the last 20 years, that you are going to cut back on your video games and start doing some serious book reading again, that you are going to be more loving and kind to your wife or your husband or your parents or your children, that you are going to spend quality time with your friends and family, whatever it is—and if you don’t do it, well, people do what they want to do, and those concrete actions that you don’t take are more telling than any words you utter or any pledges you make. You commit to what you say you want to do, or you don’t, and that decision defines who you really are and what you really want in your life. You’ve got to say “I’m in” and mean it by doing it.
Jesus understood why he had people following him, he understood their hunger, their deeper desires. And he provided them ‘a way through’, but in many ways he had to warn them that they couldn’t be spectators, that they had to commit. He used dramatic language: hating your family and your own life, renouncing all your possessions—ALL of them---that’s the tough ‘way through’ to living a truly worthwhile life.
I want to testify to you that he is still ‘the way through’ to what we are all looking for in our lives. Now maybe more than ever. Parkour, Extreme Sports, jumping out of airplanes—don’t even come close to what he offers. And its free for all of us, requires no special training or equipment. It’s about doing what you want to do, which is to be with him, and he says, essentially, OK, welcome aboard, all you have to do is show up…committed to do whatever comes. Are you ‘in’ with him?
But following Jesus is dangerous. It is costly. It means leaving many things behind. You can’t get there with a lot of baggage: your cars, your fancy clothes, your big houses, important jobs. Sometimes even your relationships can block you from ‘the way through’ to your heart’s desire.
And usually you have to leave your ‘self’ behind. Make no mistake about it---that can hurt a lot, at first.
People do what they want to do, and if you follow Jesus, that means you do what he wants you to do. If you are ‘in’ with him, you’ll have to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, free the imprisoned, spend quality time with your children, put a smile on your face at the checkout counter, reach out to the elderly, lose a weekend of your precious ‘me’ time to be with someone who is lonely, transfer some of your wealth to someone who has nothing, grieve with a brother or sister who has lost a family member or a job or a house or a way of life. If you are ‘in’ with him, you’ll have to serve as He deserves, to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not to ask for any reward.
Jesus says: “I’m out here to show that there are ways to do things that people think are insane and aren’t able to be done.”
Who are you? What is your purpose? What will truly make you alive?
People do what they want to do. Are you ready to commit? Are you ‘in’ for the most dangerous ‘way through’ to what your heart desires?
If so, then get ready to leap, heaven sent.
Thinking of yourself less.
22nd Sunday C 8/28/16 Sir3;Heb12;Lk14:1,7-14HF: 9:25; SOS:12noon Jmayzik
Next Sunday, September 4th, Mother Teresa of Calcutta will have a new name: Saint Mother Teresa. Almost 20 years after her death in India, she will be recognized as a hallow or a saint: a person who is recognized as having an exceptional degree of holiness or likeness to God.
The word that comes to mind when I think of Mother Teresa is humility.
Lots of people are talking about our presidential campaign these days. Regardless of your choice, most people would admit that there are very few humble politicians. I overheard a debate about the candidates and one person said “It takes a big ego to run for president. And I’m OK with that. They’re the ones we all follow.”
I suspect that Jesus might have picked up on that kind of thinking as well. We just heard his response: Maybe you should think about not following the egos. Don’t hang with the rich and famous. Don’t look for the honor of the best seat at the table. And if you are the host, when you make up the invite list, choose the poor, the crippled, the blind. For every one who exalts himself will be humbled. And the one who humbles himself will be exalted.
Humility, meaning: grateful, forgiving, accepting, trusting, loving, respectful, self-denying, serving.
The great writer CS Lewis said that of all the deadly sins—lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, envy, anger, it is pride that is the worst. Pride, meaning: arrogant, conceited, self-important, overconfident, mistrustful. For Lewis, pride leads to every other vice: he calls it the “complete anti-God state of mind”.
Humility, on the other hand, is the opposite. Jesus Christ is the ultimate definition of humility. Thy will be done, not mine. As CS Lewis says, "Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less."
When I was a baby Jesuit novice, I spent a summer working in a wonderful hospital in the Bronx called Calvary. It is a hospital for people with advanced cancer---cancer which cannot be cured. It was founded by a small group of widows in 1899, with the mission of caring for destitute women with the terminal disease of cancer. Eventually Dominican sisters took over and the hospital accepted men and women of all backgrounds. From the beginning it was about easing their pain and their suffering, but it was also about providing them with love and dignity in their final days, not unlike the Houses of the Dying that Mother Teresa established all over the world. I witnessed firsthand what an extraordinary place Calvary Hospital was, and still is. The staff there really really care, and they love the people they serve.
Our job as Jesuit novices that summer was to be orderlies for the hospital, working the early shift from 7am to 3pm every day. I had never done any work like that before in my fairly sheltered life, and to be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to taking care of people who were dying. I think I was scared that I wouldn’t know how to handle all of it—witnessing their suffering, taking care of their needs, and most especially dealing with death face to face. We had to learn how to take care of their most basic needs---to change their gowns and bedding when they had lost control of their bladders or bowels; to bathe them in bed without hurting them; to help them eat, often spoonfeeding them; to assist them when they were vomiting or when they needed an enema. At first, some of these tasks were nasty and gross to me—the smells, the gruesomeness of the wounds, the foulness of it all---and I remember thinking on the first day that I might not make it to the end of the summer.
But on the second day I was asked to take care of a woman who was very ill. I had to change her bedding, and using the technique I had been taught, I had to roll her over from one side to the other to switch out the old and dirty sheets with new ones. She was in a lot of pain, and as I tried to take care of her, she sensed my awkwardness and unease. I wasn’t sure where to put my hands on her body, or how to gently move her. She took one of my hands and placed it on her hip. “Here,” she said with the sweetest, warmest smile that went right through me. “And here,” she said as she took my other hand and placed it by her shoulder. “We can do this together, sweetheart.” As I rolled her over, I could see her repressing the pain, and I knew it was because she didn’t want me to feel badly that I was hurting her. When I finally finished the job and got her propped up as best as I could, she looked exhausted. But she asked me to come closer and then reached out to me with her hands and gently held my face. “Thank you so very much, thank you. You are… magnificent. God bless you.” And that smile again. I hadn’t done anything really, except changed her sheets very poorly, and here this very sick woman was taking care of me. My face in her hands, I felt like a little boy again. I didn’t know what to say, the lump in my throat so large, my emotions suddenly taking over. “I’ll be back,” I finally croaked out, getting up to leave. “I would like that,” she said.
My shift was over. I left the hospital, went to our apartment and took a shower, and had dinner with my fellow Jesuit novices. I came back after work that night to visit her, and she was unconscious. I didn’t know what to do, so I just stayed there. She died as I sat beside her bed, holding her hand. One of the nurses who came in told me that she had been a cleaning lady all her life. And she told me that it had been a privilege to take care of her, she was one of the loveliest people she had ever met. I had to leave the room, went down the hall to an alcove, and broke down in tears. Another nurse came over and put her arms around me. “It’s OK,” she said. “This is what we do. We take care of each other.”
I learned a great deal that summer about humility. And about privilege. The people I served at Calvary were from all walks of life. They were CEO’s, carpenters, cops, authors, athletes, teachers, cleaning ladies. They were from every age group and economic class, every race, and every religion. And it didn’t matter. They were all welcome to the table of love provided for them by the most dedicated health workers I have ever met. I learned from them that the most humble of tasks—like cleaning a person who had had a bathroom accident—was the greatest privilege—my privilege. They taught me to help my patients retain their dignity, to enable them to feel more comfortable, to find a way to make them smile, and in the process I was equally blessed.
Like millions of others, I was very moved and inspired Mother Teresa’s work with the lost, the forgotten and the unwanted. But when it was revealed after her death that she had suffered for almost 50 years with a spiritual illness—of never feeling God’s presence in her life, only God’s absence---and that she embraced that long dark night as a gift from God to enable her to be one with all the world’s lost, forgotten and unwanted, that was when I understood what real humility is all about. 50 years of her work with the poor, the dying, the rejects, day in and day out, even as she suffered the most profound loneliness in the absence of God’s encouragement and love---that’s humility.
I read a story about her, just after she received the Nobel Prize for Peace. On her way back to her home in India, her plane made a stop-over in Rome. She was exhausted but she graciously spoke to waiting reporters, putting a miraculous medal into the hand of each one of them. One reporter seemed to be a little skeptical about what it all meant. “Mother,” he said,” you are seventy! When you die, the world will be as it was before. What has changed after so much of your effort with the dying and the poor?” It was a loaded question, but she smiled brightly, as if the man had kissed her affectionately. “Well,” she said, “I never thought I would be able to change the world! I have only tried to be a drop of clean water in which God's love could sparkle. Does that seem like nothing?” The reporter didn’t know what to answer, and he fell silent for a moment. She spoke to him again. “Why don't you try to be a drop of clean water, and then there will be two of us.” Again the smile. “Are you married?, she asked him. “Yes, Mother”. “ Wonderful,” she said. “Tell your wife as well and then there will be three of us. So you have you any children?”. The reporter said, “I have three children, Mother”. Then that most wonderful smile dawned on her face. “Tell them, tell your children too and then there will be six of us...!”
"Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less." God bless her, our new saint of humility. And God help us all to take her example to heart in our own lives, and in the choices we make every day.
Small is Big.
21st Sunday C 8/21/16 Is66;Heb12;Lk13:22-30 SOS 10:30;HF 5pm J Mayzik SJ
Saturday I spoke with a wonderful doctor who recommended that I read a book written by a guy who was clinically dead for a day. In the book, the guy described the experience he had while he was ‘dead’. He didn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel like you hear in other stories like this, no angels telling him to walk into the light. He said he was wandering around in a dark place, looking for a way out. It was scary and lonely. It took him a while before he found a door that would open, and when he did, his medical condition reversed, and he survived. The doctor sounded pretty convinced that the man was in a kind of purgatory, a no man’s land for a while.
To be truthful, I’m sometimes skeptical about these back-from-the-dead stories. But listening to this physician, who clearly sees his 'job' as a healing vocation (and I'm sure his patients are no doubt lucky to have him), I took interest in the book.
As the doctor was talking, I suddenly remembered this experience I had in the subway a while ago. I was struggling to carry a whole bunch of stuff in four very large bags. My friend had warned me that I was trying to take too much, but I confidently and stubbornly waved him off. “I’ll be fine”, I said. “I’m a man.” The truth is that I looked like a drunken sailor as I walked down the street with all this stuff, my balance off, the bags tangling with my legs. I was determined to do it in one trip, that I wouldn’t cave and ask for help, and I was not going to take a taxi. I made it into the subway station, and a lot of people had to deal with me on the crowded train. My stop was one of those lonely local stations without a subway booth and clerk, and the few people who got off the train with me went ahead as I readjusted my bags. When I finally had my act together, I found myself facing the only way to leave the station--through one of those ceiling-to-floor revolving bar exits. I swiped my card, pushed the bars in front of me, and in the middle of the turn, my bags got caught up in the metal bars, and the whole thing locked up. I couldn’t go back and I couldn’t go forward, bars all around. I was in my own little prison, and not a soul around.