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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: Along for the Ride

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

Saturday 1/16/16 – Along for the ridea

I was heading out on a routine Saturday afternoon errand run when I asked my husband if he wanted to come along for the ride.

“Well now, that depends,” he said, diverting his attention from the television. “Where are you going?”

I threw out the name of a local shopping hub, but I didn’t go into a lot of detail. I knew that if I told him my exact itinerary and how many stops I planned to make, he would opt to stay at home and binge watch martial arts movies. Quite frankly, I wanted the company so I adopted a less-is-more approach.

It worked. He slid his feet into a pair of sneakers, grabbed his coat and hat and gamely followed me out to the car. However, before I could back out of the driveway, curiosity got the better of him. “Exactly where are we going?” “How long will this take?” “What are we getting?” “Why are you going here instead of there?”

I have a notoriously short fuse so naturally, it didn’t take long for me to snap. I informed him that I did not bring him on this field trip so that he could question my every move or second guess my entire plan. After all, he was only holding down furniture when I came along so it wasn’t like he was doing anything important. Where did he get off trying to micromanage the whole operation now that he was in a moving vehicle? “Can’t you show a little bit of faith in me and just go along with the program without interfering?” I asked.

“Yes, I can,” he replied, remaining silent for the rest of the trip.

I felt terrible. I couldn’t very well get too mad at him when I hadn’t given him all of the facts in the first place. Deep down I knew if I had told him my entire plan for the day, there was little chance he would want to accompany me and if I wanted someone who understood the subtle art of retail therapy, I would have called a girlfriend. Instead, I chose to spend time with him and that meant enduring his endless questions without blowing my top in the process. Just as Jesus does for me.

Although the Gospel writers often paint a portrait of perfect obedience when it comes to the early followers of Christ, chances are they were a lot like my husband and didn’t get too far down the road before critiquing His plan or trying to micromanage the movement. Jesus understood that and took them as they were, without losing His temper. He knew these were not devout, faith-filled people but flawed folks with a lot of issues. Issues He was willing to endure as long as in the end, they came along for the ride.

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Confessions of a Cynical Catholic: The Problem With Purgatory

Purgatory-Traffic-SignI was nine-years-old before I ever heard the word “Purgatory.” I playing some elaborate pretend game with a friend of mine when she announced that her character was going to die and that she would continue to interact with my character from the hereafter. (Believe me, It made perfect sense in the context of the story and if you knew anything about the two of us at all, you would understand that we were a tad…unconventional to put it mildly. LOL)

So of course we staged this dramatic death bed scene in which I hugged her, told her character how much I would miss her and then laid her to rest near a bush in the backyard that quite frankly, looked like it should have been a tombstone. A few minutes later, I watched as she stood in front of the bush with her arms out like she was waiting for the mother ship to beam her up and said, “What are you doing?”

“Getting my sins burned off in Purgatory,” she said, solemnly.

Where? I wondered. She said it so seriously like it was a real thing, but the only place I had ever heard of where fire was possibly involved was Hell. I assumed she had made up the word. “But your character was good. She wouldn’t have gone…Down There.”

My friend looked at me like I was crazy. “I didn’t go Down There, I went to Purgatory. You have to wait there for a while before you can go to Heaven.”

This was a new one on me. Prior to this conversation, I was only aware of two final destinations and none of them involved what sounded like a celestial equivalent to a doctor’s waiting room. “Let me get this straight,” I began. “God’s in charge of this Purgatory place, so it’s not like where the Devil is.”

“Right. It’s not a bad place to be, but it’s not Heaven either,” she told me.

I ran that one around in my head a few times. “So how long do you have to stay there?” I wanted to know.

She shrugged. “It depends on how bad you were here on Earth. If you die with a lot of sins on your soul you could be there for millions of years.”

Millions of years? Oh, she had to be pulling my leg. “I don’t understand. Why do your sins have to be burned off? Can’t God just take them away?”

“It’s not like that kind of fire,” she informed me, as if she had personal experience with the place. “It’s not hot. It’s warm and it makes you better. It doesn’t burn you up.”

My mother called me in for dinner after that and my friend went home, but the conversation stayed with me all throughout dinner, as I took my bath and got ready for bed that night. When my mom came in to tuck me in, I came right out and asked, “What’s Purgatory?”

“Where did you hear about Purgatory?” She wanted to know.

I offered her the five second explanation of what went down in the backyard, but before I could ask for any clarification, she dismissed the whole thing by saying, “Oh don’t worry about that. You’ll go to Heaven.”

But I wasn’t so sure. So, naturally I went to my father. “What’s Purgatory?”

My dad looked a little uncomfortable as though I had touched on something forbidden or taboo. “It’s a Catholic belief,” he said simply.

“So you don’t believe in it?” I asked.

He shook his head. “No, I don’t.”

I thought my parents had a very strange attitude where this Purgatory place was concerned and it wasn’t helping me at all. My dad was pretty smart and even though I knew there were some “differences” between his faith and mine, this seemed like a pretty big thing to disagree on. I didn’t like the idea of believing in something that my dad seemed fairly confident wasn’t there. And what about my mom? Dad said that Purgatory was a Catholic belief, but my mom dismissed the idea of it so fast, I couldn’t help but wonder if she DID believe in it. After all, she had been Methodist before she was Catholic. Maybe she didn’t believe in Purgatory either.

And if this place was so important, then WHY hadn’t I heard about it before now? I was in fourth grade. I had two sacraments under my belt, a phenomenal amount of prayers committed to memory and logged more hours in religion class than I could count. How had I missed the Purgatory discussion?

After giving it considerable thought and reading the section of the Bible where the concept is drawn from, I decided it was too loose of an interpretation for me to buy into. Now, I know this will not make me popular with hard core Catholics, but I stand my ground. The issue of Purgatory was very difficult for me to write about in The Idiot’s Guide to Catholicism because I just wasn’t sure. It was as if I couldn’t do it with a straight face or without rolling my eyes. It’s not that I didn’t want to, I just…struggled. At one point, I called my former religion teacher in desperation and said, “How am I going to sell this to the populous if I don’t believe it myself?”

“Wait a minute, why don’t you believe in Purgatory?” She asked.

God love this woman. She listened as I recounted the tale, laughing at the idea of two little girls talking about this over a game of pretend and how frustrating it must have been for me to ask my parents and come up empty on an answer. “No wonder you don’t believe in it. You grew up in a post-Vatican II world where no one talked about it. You lived in a home where it wasn’t discussed and then all of a sudden you heard about it and couldn’t confirm it? Why would you believe in it?”

She put on her “teacher hat” and began to explain Purgatory to me from the ground up. She didn’t tell me that I had to believe in it, but she gave me food for thought. I still struggle with the idea but if you haven’t believed in something for four decades, it’s a little hard to suddenly buy into it overnight. Thankfully she understood that and encouraged me to pray on it.

I have, but so far I have not reached a conclusion. While I would love to be a good Catholic girl with a rock solid faith, like it or not, God made me this way and He seems to like challenges. Who am I to deny Him of a great Fixer Upper project like me?

IG Catholicism Cover  The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Catholicism is available wherever books are sold including:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/idiots-guides-unknown/1119619022?ean=9781615647194

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