Confessions of a Cynical Catholic: Will the Real Messiah Please Stand Up?

(This is a reblog of one of my 2016 posts from http://www.acatholicmoment.orgaaaa

When I was younger, there was a popular, long-running panel show called To Tell the Truth. Airing in the early evening, To Tell the Truth was a quasi-game show in which a panel of celebrities tries to correctly identify a central character out of three possible contestants based on nothing more than a description and a series of questions they pose to the individuals over the course of a few minutes.

The show worked like this: The three contestants enter the studio and introduce themselves to the panel as the same individual (usually someone with an unusual occupation or life experiences). The host then reads a sizable bio summarizing the person’s life and experiences and then over the next few minutes, the panel grills the contestants over what they have heard in hopes of figuring out which one is the real deal. The central character is expected to answer all of the questions honestly, while the imposters are allowed to lie in hopes of misleading the panel. When the question and answer period is over, the panel casts their votes for the contestant they think is genuine and when all of the votes are cast, the host asks, “Will the real (NAME) please stand up?”

It’s never easy to try and figure out who someone is, especially if you have preconceived notions as to who they are supposed to be and I imagine this was the conundrum facing the people who heard Jesus speak. In fact, if To Tell the Truth had been on the air in 33 AD, I’d wager no one on the panel would have banked on Jesus being the Son of God at all. Let’s face it; based on the established bio, this guy didn’t fit the bill!

If you read the passages leading up to today’s gospel, it’s fairly obvious that Jesus isn’t on a winning streak. Although he has uttered some of his more famous speeches that we cling to today, they aren’t playing well to the populous and he’s losing followers left and right. His own family thinks He’s nuts. His community is confused and the powers that be have no idea what to do about Him. How can this guy be the Messiah when he doesn’t come from the right place, doesn’t say the things he is supposed to say, doesn’t do the things he is supposed to do and seems bent on throwing their carefully crafted tradition right out the window?

Still, it is obvious from today’s reading that even though many people are certain his is not the Christ they are looking for, they are hesitant to condemn him outright. He’s made enough of an impression that although some are still skeptical, others have seen the light. He’s cast a shadow on the messianic stereotype and caused folks to question what they knew for sure. However, in opening minds, He has also hardened hearts and in doing so, he’s placed Himself in a no-win situation that is sure to come to a very grisly end.

And all because He dared “to tell the Truth.”

Today’s Readings for Mass:

Jer 11: 18-20; Ps 72: 2-3, 9, bc 10, 11-12; Jn 7: 40-53

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November 2016 column Michiana House & Home Magazine: Leftover Memories

leftovers        My mother savored memories. Like leftovers from a Thanksgiving dinner, they were the kind of thing she chewed on for a week, rehashed, reimagined and reinvented as she found new things to reflect on.

A few years after my father died, I threw her a surprise birthday party at her house that was attended by several family members and friends. Mom was truly caught off guard and seemed pleased by the whole thing. Although I stayed behind to chat and to clean up after everyone went home, she still called me 15 minutes later (as I was walking through the front door of my own home) in order to thank me again, tell me how much she enjoyed herself and to relive the night all over again.

“So how did you know when the house would be empty?” She asked.

“Oh, right before you and your friend Jack went out for dinner, I had them ask to use the restroom so that they could call me from their cell phone,” I replied.

“He called you from the bathroom?”

“No mom, he dialed my number and let the phone ring once. That was the signal that you were leaving,” I replied.

She wanted to know how long it took me to plan it, where I bought the decorations, what bakery was responsible for the delicious cake, how many people I’d invited and who all was not able to attend.

“Why in the world would you want to know that?” I countered. “You had a houseful of people who love you and wanted to celebrate you. Why focus on the people who couldn’t make it?”

I later realized that wasn’t her point at all. For her, a surprise birthday party in September was the kind of thing that would tide her over until Halloween when she would count the number of Trick-or-Treaters she had, offer up a running commentary of how many looked “too old” to be out and lament the carloads of kids who were imported from nearby neighborhoods. Afterward she turned her attention toward Turkey Day, helping to organize my menu, tell me where the best deals were and double check the plans. After the meal was over, we’d go over everything again until I often felt as though we were having the same conversation on repeat.

As my world becomes more virtual, I’ve discovered that I also miss having long conversations with someone chewing over something that just happened. Today, I can’t even ask my friends went, about their vacation because I experienced it in real time via social media.

This month, let us be grateful for those memories that we make and experience in the here and now. Let us turn from the technology and be in the moment. Let us call the person after the fact and tell them how much we enjoyed the celebration they worked so hard to arrange rather than simply giving it a thumbs up on a web page.

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Confessions of a Cynical Catholic: A Prodigal Playlist

(This is a reblog of one of my 2016 posts from http://www.acatholicmoment.org)aaa

No question about it 1975 was a good year for great albums. Classics released that during those 365 days included: KISS Alive, Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run, Queen’s A Night at the Opera, Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti and Aerosmith’s Toys in the Attic. However, as far as I was concerned, the LP that should have won the Grammy for Album of the Year was none other than Hi God 2 by Carey Landry and Carol Jean Kinghorn.

While you can’t really compare its tracks to “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Kashmir,” or “Walk This Way,” Hi God 2 had a lot going for it and I was delighted when my mother presented me with my very own copy as a First Communion present. There was the ever-popular “If I Were a Butterfly” as well as other tunes we sang during all-school Mass however, the song that stands out to me the most was a little ditty called “Song of the Loving Father” and it is where I heard about the Prodigal Son for the first time.

The song was located at the end of side three and was something I usually avoided because it wasn’t one that featured a chorus of children in the background. But one day, I let the previous track play too long and it segued into a strange piece that began with a spoken word narrative about a father, his two kids and what happened when Kid B convinced his dad to divide up his estate prior to his death.

Although I was six at the time and didn’t really have a handle on probate laws, I was fairly positive that this was an unconventional arrangement. Still, as I listened to the words coupled by a lone acoustic guitar, I couldn’t help being riveted by the story. After all, it’s a tale as old as time itself: A person comes into more money than they’ve ever seen before, has no clue as to how to handle it, blows through it in a nanosecond, and has to come crawling back with their tail between their legs.

But just when you think you know how this will end, Jesus puts a spin on this classic and illustrates how God forgives us when we screw up time and time again. Even at that young of an age I understood the message behind the music and saw the symbolism within the song. We can “go our own way,” “rock and roll all night and party everyday” and yet when we are through feeling like we were “born to run” He’s ready to welcome us back and prove that he loves us unconditionally and is the “best friend” we’ll ever have.

Looking back on it, I am amazed that a short story Jesus told 2,000 years ago still has as much relevance for us today as it did back then. Like any good storyteller or songwriter, he knew the trick is keeping it simple. Create a catchy refrain that sticks in everyone’s brain. Make sure the words resonate with the listener and that it sounds good when backed with nothing more than an acoustic guitar. Even if it doesn’t have a good beat and you can’t dance to it, it will still stand the test of time as His parables prove over and over again.

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February 2017 column Glo Magazine: Here’s the Story…

florence-henderson-smileEvery once in a while, my writing career allows me to do something that I think is really cool. So cool in fact, that if I were to go back in time and tell my younger self it was going to happen…I probably wouldn’t believe me. Over the years, I have interviewed my musical idol (twice), called my childhood celebrity crush, met legendary journalists and best-selling authors, hung out with athletic icons and conversed with the man who, this month, will become the Vice-President of the United States. However, one of the stories I am proudest of is my interview with America’s Favorite TV Mom and Dale, Indiana native, Florence Henderson.

I cannot recall a time in my life when I was not crazy about The Brady Bunch. Although I cannot remember watching it when it originally aired, I rarely missed an episode in syndication. Coming from a small, nuclear household, I loved everything about the hustle and bustle of having a big, blended family like the Brady’s. I wanted problems that could be solved in 30 minutes or by building a house of cards. I wanted enough talented siblings to start a singing group. I wanted to square dance in the living room. And most of all, I wanted a mother who had nothing better to do with her day than to help me track down my lost diary, perform “Wherever We Go” at my high school talent show or help me stalk Davy Jones and convince him to take me to the spring prom.

Don’t misunderstand me, my real-life mother was a lovely lady, but she was no Florence Henderson. She couldn’t sing, didn’t needlepoint and (thankfully) did not wear her hair in a horrible mullet. In fact, the only things she had in common with Carol Brady was her Hoosier heritage and that she occasionally made pork cops and applesauce for supper.

Through my interview, I would learn that even though Florence Henderson was Carol Brady, she was more multifaceted than her television counterpart. Born on Valentine’s Day into a large, but poor Catholic family, Henderson grew up near the Ohio River, was taught by the Sisters of St. Benedict in Ferdinand, Indiana and moved to New York at the age of 17 thanks to the financial support of some personal friends.

She was the “Today Girl” on NBC’s Today Show, was the first woman to sit behind Johnny Carson’s desk on The Tonight Show, appeared on Broadway in a number of productions, did a stint on Dancing With The Stars and was a spokesperson for everything from Wesson Oil to Polident and most recently, the LG ProBake Convection oven. She was a regular fixture at the Indianapolis 500, a benefactress to the nuns who educated her, and a consummate professional who was devoted to her family, her television children and fans.

“I have been very blessed in my career,” she said in the interview. “I love what I do and I am always thinking the best role is just around the corner. I’ve always said I’d think about retiring when I’m 95! I love the challenge of performing in front of a live audience.”

She was certainly blessed and for all of us “Brady kids” around the world, we were blessed to have been impacted by her through those 117 zany episodes. The loss of Henderson on Thanksgiving at the age of 82 is a difficult one to accept. She was our surrogate parent who was there to greet us after school. She kept us company until dinner time and showed us that even though life isn’t perfect, we can achieve a happy ending provided that we find out what we do best and then do our best with it and no matter what, “don’t play ball in the house.”

RIP Florence, we’ll miss you.

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February 2017 column Michiana House & Home Magazine: Snow Days

snow   I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point in my life, I no longer cared for winter nor the weather that comes along with it. I suspect it has something to do with my driver’s license, my job and my two children, but I don’t get excited about “snow days” anymore. It wrecks my schedule, puts me a day behind and takes months to recover from.

Of course, it was a different story when I was a child. There was nothing better than a snow day! I remember eating my Frosted Flakes at the dining room table and listening to the morning DJ rattle off an ever-growing list of closings every half hour. There was nothing more thrilling than hearing your school name if it was announced or more heartbreaking if it wasn’t.

But if, by an act of God, school was closed it was like being let loose in a candy factory! The day stretched out before me with so much untapped promise and potential, it seemed as if it would never end. What would I watch on television? What would I do? Who would I hang out with? Would I go to my best friend’s house, or call him to come over to mine? Would I get out the sled or stay inside where it was warm and enjoy my Christmas presents I’d barely played with?

Naturally, my mother a bizarre rule to go along with this daylong vacation. I was not allowed to go outside unless it was 11 degrees or warmer. For the life of me I don’t know how she landed on that particular number, but it was lock solid. Maybe it’s a heat wave on the Kelvin or Celsius scale, but in Fahrenheit Land, it’s pretty freaking chilly. Luckily she worked most days, believed in the “honor system” and my brother was not a tattletale. What she never knew never hurt her.

But that’s all in the past. Today, the thought of the city coming to a standstill and my being homebound drives me to distraction. I’d rather have an impromptu vacation when it is 75 and sunny and I can get things accomplished. Still, snow days have a way of forcing us to stop and appreciate the majesty of Mother Nature at a time in our lives when she is most magical.

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October 2016 column Michiana House & Home Magazine: Wide Awake in Dreamland

sleepwalking        Everyone has his or her own unique was of dealing with stress. Some people are emotional eaters. Some go for a long run or walk while others swear by the concept of “retail therapy,” but I am a bit unconventional…I sleepwalk.

I’m not really sure when my nighttime jaunts began, but I know I didn’t do it as a child. That was my brother’s department. I vividly remember the night in which he padded down the hall and wandered into the kitchen in order to throw his pillow in the trashcan. On another occasion, he removed the drawers from his dresser and stacked them on his desk in a configuration that can only be described as “modern art.” There was also the time that he got up at 1 a.m. thinking it was time to deliver his afternoon paper route. He nearly made it out the back door before my dad caught him and put him back to bed.

When I sleepwalk, it’s just as scary. I am incapable of navigating the layout of my own home. I see people who aren’t there. I try to unlock doors that don’t exist and in my most recent escapade, I stood over my son’s bed and stared down as him as though he were lying in a casket.

“If your planning to audition for the next Paranormal Activity movie, I think you’ll get the part,” he told me the following morning.

“What are you talking about?” I asked him.

Evidently, I got out of bed to visit the bathroom, but for reasons unknown, I chose his facilities rather than my own. This required me to jump over the dog gate at my bedroom door. According to Boy Wonder, when I finished my business, I didn’t go back to bed but rather, took a tour of the entire second floor of my house. I went into my office and sat in my chair for a while. I wandered across the hall to the spare bedroom and for a grand finale; I entered his bedroom and spun around before paying my respects at his supine body.

“Seriously, I don’t know how you did any of that in the dark without killing yourself in the process.” He said as he concluded his tale. “It was really impressive. Frightening, but impressive.”

While I would love to tell you that the story has been wildly exaggerated for dramatic purposes, I know he’s telling the truth. I have a vague memory of needing to use the bathroom and then being in his room…I’m just glad I didn’t confuse the latter with the former. That would not have ended well.

“Oh no, you made it into the bathroom just fine,” he assured me. “As for everything else, I don’t know what you were doing. You just kept saying you were looking for something.”

“Did I tell you what I was looking for?” I asked.

“Yeah…you said you needed to find a pillow.”

I should have checked the trashcan.

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Confessions of a Cynical Catholic: It was like being a Beatle

(This is a reblog of one of my 2016 posts from http://www.acatholicmoment.org)aa

It’s a term celebrities and other notable names use whenever they experience an unprecedented level of fame. Over the years I have heard countless musicians, actors, politicians and even Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling use the same six words to describe that moment when they realize their career has taken some kind of turn and that people see them as something larger than life: It was like being a Beatle.

It’s a statement that, for the most part, needs no explanation to those who hear it. It’s the kind of analogy people simply “get.” Most everyone who has been plugged into pop culture over the past 50-plus years has seen the iconic images of the Fab Four arriving at the newly christened JFK Airport in February 1964. They watched as the band gave a startled wave to the assembled crowd. They saw the fans pressed along the tarmac hoping to catch a glimpse of the lads from Liverpool. They heard the screams, and cries of an adoring public and read the signs heralding the new British Invasion and they knew within an instant that this band was somehow different than every act that came before. It’s a sentence that encompasses the very essence of that seminal moment in history and conveys all of the feelings and emotions that come along with it. “It was like being a Beatle.” Kind of says it all, doesn’t it?

I was a sophomore in high school before I ever really considered what the gospel writers meant when they said Jesus ate with “tax collectors and sinners.” Naturally, I understood the “sinners” part (though I am sure I envisioned these people as being much more nefarious than myself) but it was the “tax collectors” part that I couldn’t follow. What was so bad about eating with the good people of H&R Block or the IRS? Weren’t they just work-a-day Joes like everyone else?

Not exactly, according to my religion teacher at the time. Evidently, back in the First Century, tax collectors were a pretty corrupt bunch. I’m not talking about creating a code so complicated few people can actually understand it, but a ruthless, insidious band of characters no one in their right mind would want to hang out with. She explained that when the gospel writers used the term “tax collectors and sinners” they were nodding to popular slang of the time and those who read it completely understood it. Like the Beatle analogy, it was the kind of sentence that said it all.

I often wonder how St. Luke would write his gospel if it were happening today? Would he qualify Jesus’ popularity by claiming He was bigger than the Beatles? Would he explain His influence on others by calling Him the John Lennon of ministry? (And before you ask, yes…I see what I did there.) With whom would Jesus have to have dinner with in order for it to be considered a public affront by most of the world? More importantly, what would be the take away message from this action? Would it be that Jesus is somehow different than anyone who came before him? Would it be that Jesus always represents the gold standard of behavior? Or would it be that Jesus came to heal everyone and no matter who you are there is a place at his table? Maybe we should focus less on how the infamous tax collectors and sinners earned their Beatle-like distinction and instead realize that if Jesus’ mercy extends to them, then perhaps we should pull up a chair and have a seat as well.

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