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Confessions of a Cynical Catholic: God has left the Building

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

Out of all of the days of the Church year, Holy Saturday is my least favorite. Even though I know it is the last day of my Lenten journey and that Easter is only 24 hours away, there is a strange emptiness to it that I can’t shake. It’s as if God has left the building.

The first time I ever really thought about Holy Saturday was the year I saw Jesus Christ Superstar, the 1970s rock opera centered on the last days of Christ. Unlike a lot of passion plays or movies, there is no resurrection coda to give the whole thing a happy ending and from a plot standpoint Jesus Christ Superstar is a bit of a downer, but it did cause me to wonder what that first Holy Saturday might have been like for those who experienced it.

Was it only six days ago that they followed Jesus into the city of Jerusalem full of idealistic hopes and dreams? By Saturday it had to feel like longer. It always does when everything goes downhill quickly. Even though only a few days have passed, it feels more like 10 years have gone by in a blur. I imagine that by the time the sun set on Good Friday, the family and friends of Jesus went home in a daze, spent the evening in shock and woke up on Saturday feeling lost, alone and afraid that God had abandoned them.

It’s only natural for your faith to be a little shaky whenever you lose someone you love. It happens to us in the 21st Century so it only makes sense that it would have happened to them as well. I wonder if they spent Holy Saturday sitting analyzing every conversation, going over every “what if” scenario and reassuring one another that they did everything they could. I wonder if they really felt absolved or if no matter how much they talked, they ended up back where they started – with more questions than answers.

Did they wonder where God was when His Son was being crucified? Had He given up on the human race? If Jesus could feed the hungry, heal the sick and raise the dead, why couldn’t he come up with a quick getaway plan for himself? Maybe they argued over trivial things like why Jesus gave His mother to John and not Philip. Perhaps there were minor blow-ups that blew over and segued into uncomfortable silences as everyone tried to get their bearings.

Somehow I can picture James breaking into everyone’s thoughts to ask about something Jesus had said. “Remember when He said He could destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days? Did anyone else get what he talking about, or am I the only one who didn’t understand.”

“Nah,” Bartholomew said, shaking his head. “I didn’t get it either. Everyone knows it takes more than three days to get a permit around here, let alone line up a construction crew.”

“Jesus was a good carpenter, but even He isn’t THAT good,” Thaddeus offers with a chuckle.

There would have been laughter. There would have been tears. There would have been memories. They would have done what families do when there has been a loss. At some point, someone might have announced that it was getting late and they should turn in for the night. Sabbath would be over soon and there was work to be done in the morning. Mary and her friends would volunteer to go to the tomb the next day to anoint Jesus’ body since there wasn’t time to do it the day before. Peter might have nodded and warned her to be careful around the Roman guards that have been placed outside the tomb.

“You should probably take someone with you to help with that rock,” he muttered before retiring for the night. “That thing weighs a ton.”

For everyone else, it was just another Saturday, but for the friends and family of Jesus, their world felt shattered. As with the loss of any loved one, it would hurt for days, weeks, months and years to come, but maybe, with a little faith they would eventually come to realize that God is still with them, even when it feels like He isn’t.

It’s that thought that cheers Mary up a little before she goes to sleep. Yes, she thinks as she closes her eyes. Perhaps tomorrow will be a better day.

Today’s Mass Readings:

GN 1:1-2:2; GN 1:1, 26-31A; PS 104: 1-2, 5-6, 10-12, 13-14, 24, 35; PS 33:4-5, 6-7, 12-13, 20 and 22; GN 22:1-18; GN 22:1-2, 9A, 10-13, 15-18; PS 16:5, 8, 9-10, 11; EX 14:15-15:1; EX 15:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 17-18; IS 54:5-14; PS 30:2,4,5-6, 11-12, 13; IS 55:1-11; IS 12:2-3, 4, 5-6; BAR 3:9-15, 32-4:4; PS 19:8,9,10,11; EZ 36:16-17A, 18-28; PS 42:3,5; 43:3,4; IS12:2-3, 4BCD, 5-6; PS 51:12-13, 14-15, 18-19; ROM 6:3-11;PS 118: 1-2, 16-17, 22-23; LK 24:1-12

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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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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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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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Confessions of a Cynical Catholic: How cool is that?

(This is a reblog from one of my 2016 posts at http://www.Acatholicmoment.com)b

When I was a kid, I was a huge fan of the ABC hit television series Happy Days and like many viewers; I couldn’t get enough of Arthur Fonzarelli (a.k.a. “The Fonz.”) In the event you have never heard of this individual, the Fonz (played by Henry Winkler) was a tough-talking, 1950’s era, bad boy greaser with a heart of gold who lived in a small apartment above the Cunningham’s garage and served as an adopted son, older brother, idol, mentor and pal to the rest of the show’s ensemble.

Those who are familiar with the series know there was nothing that Fonz couldn’t do. He was the coolest of the cool. He could always be counted upon to show up in a pinch, take on any challenge and defeat any foe whether it was a rival gang, a power hungry police officer, or even an alien named Mork. He was both revered and feared by his friends who were intimidated and inspired by his special brand of magic no one fully understood. He could turn off the lights or cause the jukebox to play with a bump of his fist. He could make the phone ring or the girls to flock by his side with a mere snap of his fingers and over the course of 11 seasons performed any number of stunts no normal person in their right mind would attempt.

One of my favorites occurred during an episode in which the Fonz joins Richie and the gang on a campout in the woods. While attempting to sleep under the stars like a cowboy, he becomes annoyed by the numerous nighttime noises, rises from his place by the fire and shouts, “Cool it!” into the darkness. The animals naturally cease on his command and when he is satisfied by the outcome, the Fonz straightens his jacket, folds his arms and lays back saying, “Let’s see Tarzan do that!”

Whenever I see a rerun of this episode, I am reminded of today’s gospel in which Jesus calms the sea. Though it may be sacrilegious to compare the Son of God to a beloved television icon, I can’t help seeing the similarities. Though He didn’t wear a leather jacket or ride a motorcycle, I get the impression that Jesus’ presence commanded attention wherever He went. He was the coolest of the cool. His friends counted on Him to come through in clutch situations, did not understand the special power He clearly possessed and seem both awed and afraid of Him at the same time.

What I find most interesting is how those around these two individuals react to their God-given abilities. No matter how many times they ride in like the cavalry or save the day in the nick of time, their friends them genuinely seem surprised when it happens. It is as though they lack faith in someone who has proven time and time again how capable he is and more than ready to stand up to the challenge.

Unfortunately we also lack that faith in ourselves. Both the Fonz and Jesus stress to their friends the need to have faith in themselves when problems arise because one day, they won’t be around to fight their battles for them. Though we may not be able to control nature or command the sea, when we look inside our own hearts we must seek to find that little bit of Jesus or the Fonz that lives inside of us; the part that has the faith in our ability to weather any storm, stand up to any test, remain cool under pressure and use the gifts God has given us. It’s only then will we accomplish more than we ever dream possible.

I think even the Fonz would have to give that idea two thumbs way up.

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Confessions of a Cynical Catholic: Hail, Holy Queen

May Crowning   It was early one morning in May during my second grade year when my best friend arrived at my house to catch the school bus holding two droopy tulips that were wrapped in a damp paper towel.

“What’s up with the flowers?” I asked, hoping he had not developed some weird boy/girl thing on his teacher, classmate or worse yet…me.

I shouldn’t have worried.  “I’m taking them to Mary,” he said, like the answer should have been obvious.

“You mean Jesus’ Mom Mary?” I clarified. (Just because I am Catholic does not mean that I presume every mention of the name Mary has something to do with the Blessed Mother.)

“Of course I mean Jesus’ Mom! How many other Marys do we know?” It was a rhetorical question. He and I hung out with the same bunch of kids and not one of them was named Mary. He also informed me that this was the day in which everyone was to bring in a flower of some kind to be placed at the base of her statue during a special Mass and someone would actually have the honor of crowning Our Lady with a ring of roses. “It’s the May Crowning.”

He acted like I should have known about this, but I didn’t and for reasons that I still cannot explain, I have ZERO memory of this event prior to that day. Although I went to the same school the previous year and I can’t believe they didn’t have a May Crowning Mass, this was all new to me. I suppose it’s possible I was sick that day, or simply didn’t notice it, but a flower parade a coronation, a big, and the singing of “Hail, Holy Queen” (hands down one of the best Mass songs EVER!) are kinda hard to forget.

“And everyone has to bring a flower?” I asked, making sure to have my facts straight. After all, I had dressed up as Mary earlier that year for All Saints Day and I was not about to let her down but showing up to her big shindig empty handed.

“Of course!” He told me.

That was all I needed to hear. I quickly located my mother, hurriedly explained the situation, told her that I needed a flower of some kind immediately or I would be the only kid in school not to have something to put at the feet of the Blessed Virgin. (You must imagine me saying all of this in a single, urgent breath as if it were a life or death scenario.)

There was only one problem. My mother didn’t have any flowers. I mean none. The only thing of color we had growing in our yard was the occasional dandelion, but something told me that wasn’t the kind of flower Mary would appreciate. Dandelions are good for moms, grandmas, and a nice neighbor lady you consider to be family, but NOT the mother of God.

“Julie I don’t have any flowers to give you,” My mother said.

“Well we’ve got to do something because I cannot show up at school with nothing. Lookit…he’s got two tulips and I’ve got nada!”

My mother checked all of my facts with my friend, who at the worldly age of eight knew all about these things of course and he assured her that every child was expected to bring something. With the bus due to arrive at any minute and nothing but a potted  philodendron to send with me, my mother came up with a desperate plan. She sent my brother out to hack off some blooming forsythia limbs off of the bush in the backyard.

Now, I suppose he could have snipped off one little branch and that would have been sufficient, but instead he clipped off a ton of twigs, which my mother placed in a Folger’s coffee can wrapped in aluminum foil. This was not a simple little “flower,” it was a freaking arrangement!!

And wasn’t I proud? Children often equate love with how big or small a present is. Though St. Therese championed the little ways in which we could demonstrate our love, deep down I knew bigger was always better and I was certainly going to score some brownie points with the Higher Ups when Mary saw how we went above and beyond for her.

My reverie was short lived. Apparently I was far from the only person who did not know about this event and several of my school chums showed up with nothing. My teacher, thrilled with my largesse suggested that I share with the class by snipping off stems to distribute so that everyone could have something to give. I did as I was told, but I was chagrinned that my foresight (or rather my buddy’s since this was his caper in the first place)was now being leveraged to bail  everyone else out of their own failings. I’m sure I should have been charitable about this, but needless to say, that was not in my nature at the time.

From that day forward, I was never without something to offer on May Crowning. The following year, my mother actually planted tulip bulbs and daffodils in the yard and while she never said that they were for May Crowning purposes, when the school changed the policy to allow everyone to bring in a dollar to buy a cut stem from a local florist, my mother’s crop winnowed out. Coincidence? I doubt it. Still, it goes to show that mothers, whether Biblical figures or not are the most special people in our lives and they all deserve a coronation whether it’s raising a young man to fulfill His destiny or simply making sure you aren’t the odd kid out, they go above and beyond the call of duty and are there for us while they are here and in the Hereafter.

 

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Confessions of a Cynical Catholic: My son and the Book of Mormon

Mormons       Most people who know me, know that I am an Olympic junkie. I love everything about the games and will watch sports I have never heard of if it means that the US might bring home the gold medal. I’m even worse if the games are actually held on US soil as they were in 2002. The Salt Lake City games were a big deal for the country and an even bigger deal for the state of Utah, which is known for its large Mormon/Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints population.

I willingly admit that I do not know much about the LDS. I have watched documentaries about their history on PBS and I was a big fan of Donny and Marie back in the day, but beyond that…my scope is limited. I can say with some certainty that they seem like really nice people who work hard and live good Christian lives. They build beautiful temples. They believe in big families, and they are constantly doing good works for others. As far as I am concerned, the mormons are fine by me.

I don’t know what my son thought, though. As it happened, the Salt Lake Games coincided with a unit on other religions in his theology class and after reading a Time Magazine article about their penchant for overseas missions and door-to-door evangelism, my ever curious child had a LOT of questions about the tenants of the LDS movement and why the governor of Utah encouraged them to quell their “enthusiasm” during the Olympic season.

“Did you know that these people have a different Bible?” he asked me.

“It’s not a ‘different’ Bible…they have the same thing we do, but they also have The Book of Mormon,” I informed him.

“Well, whatever it is, they give it away for FREE…all you have to do is call the toll-free number and they’ll send one to you!” He was giddy with excitement over getting a free book in the mail.

I shook my head. “Yeah, no…I am not calling that number. Do you have any idea what comes WITH that free book?”

“What?”

“The MORMONS!” I shot back. “I’m here to tell you, they are wonderful people, but they are harder to chase away than a Jehovah’s Witness. They’ll show up on their bikes looking like Steak & Shake servers and talking about God-only-knows-what and I am not in the mood for that conversation! No thank you. No ‘free’ book is worth all of that.”

He was so disappointed. After his success with the Jewish temple, I think he was under the impression that I would actually encourage his curiosity and have him call them right up. However, a few months later, while he was volunteering for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, he happened to work alongside a group of mormons and didn’t even know it.

“Hey, are you guys LDS?” I confirmed as we sat in the break room eating ice cream.

Their eyes lit up and big smiles spread across their faces. “Yes, we are,” one of them answered. “What can we do for you?”

I explained that we were Catholics and that my son had recently finished a unit on other religions and wanted to know a little more about the LDS faith. “If you have a couple of minutes, would you mind talking to him? He’s not going to convert or anything, but I think he would get a lot out of the conversation.” The pair readily agreed and told me to send him over.

“OK here’s the deal, see those two guys over there?” I indicated to them with a nod of my head.

“Yeah,” he replied. “What about them?”

I smiled. “They are Mormons.”

To explain the child’s reaction would make no sense in the English language. His jaw dropped open. His eyes became huge and he stared across the room as if he’d just discovered the one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater. “Oh for heaven’s sake, they are Latter Day Saints, not zoo animals! They agreed to talk to you for a couple of minutes and want you to come over.” I hesitated for a second before adding, “Just do me a favor, whatever they say, just listen. Don’t argue with them, don’t tell them they are wrong, and don’t get into some kind of theological debate. Remember, we asked them not the other way around so be respectful.”

“OK,” he said, and went off to introduce himself.

A few minutes he returned with a strange look on his face. His smile seemed frozen in place and he spoke through gritted teeth. “You are never going to believe this one,” he informed me. “Do you know these people think Jesus lived in America with the Indians and that when they die they can become gods?”

“Well, it seems I may have heard some of that along the line,” I told him, impressed by how much they were able to convey in such a short period of time. “I’m sure there is a bit more to it than that, though.”

He narrowed his eyes in suspicion. “Maybe, but I don’t know. They seem to think that they are the only people who are going to go to heaven too.”

Not being privy to the official list, I jokingly pointed out that perhaps they were right. The important thing was to hear what they had to say and not to judge them. After all, we as Catholics have our beliefs, and they have theirs. My son unfortunately had no intention of giving them the benefit of the doubt, especially where the hereafter was concerned.

“I’m judging them, but they are wrong. I am totally going to heaven when I die and I don’t need an extra Bible or a crazy fairy tale to tell me that! I’ve got two sacraments and I plan to get the rest of them as well…if that doesn’t get me in, nothing will,” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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