The grace to persevere

Eight years ago, the Mars Chocolate North America company wanted to rejuvenate their product line of candy bars. Their creative partner, the global firm BBDO, helped them to launch a national campaign with the basic message: “you are not you when you’re hungry.” The television advertisements were wildly popular with stars such as Betty White and Aretha Franklin appearing in them. In all the tv spots the person just wasn’t themselves until a concerned fried offered them a candy bar. The Aretha Franklin spot always cracked me up. On a long cross-country drive one of the backseat passengers is complaining about everything – and while doing so appears to be Ms. Franklin. The backseat companion encourages the complainer to eat a candy bar because “When you’re hungry you turn into a diva.”  Continue reading

If I’d only known…

It is a well know gospel – the miraculous feeding of the multitudes. St. John estimates the size of the crow as 5,000 counting only the men. The location of the event is somewhere on the shore of the Sea of Galilee on a “mountain” but then the same word can be used for “hillside.” The Christian community still remembered the location and shared it with the 4th century pilgrims. Today, there is the Church of the Multiplications on the traditional site that is maintained and served by Benedictine Monks. It is a site near Capernaum on the north side of the Sea of Galilee (St. Luke says it was in Bethsaida Julias, not too far away where the northern branch of the Jordan enters the Sea).

I recently visited the Church of the Multiplications and would note that it is about 2 miles from Capernaum to the northeast along the lake and about 2 miles from Bethsaida (not Julias) to the southwest also along the lake. I mention this in passing to note that villages were nearby – not that 5,000 people were going to head to the local market for dinner, but so often people imagine this place as a remote wilderness. But is actually quite verdant, on the lake, and with villages nearby.

When I was at the holy site, I was moved to remember a homily from some 30 years ago. The priest proclaimed that there was no miracle as we would understand it, but that the “real miracle” was that the people were inspired by the willingness of the young boy to give up the food that he had brought with him. His example, moved them to open up their satchels and share their food, ensuring everyone was well fed and there were still 12 wicker baskets of left overs. I am sure the priest meant well, was emphasizing the ecclesiological (“things church”) nature of Church as community, and was calling our local community to share with those in need.  All well and truly good, but…. no miracle?

Did you known that this miracle is the only one that is included in all four canonical gospels? (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:31-44; Luke 9:12-17; John 6:1-14). So, yes, the Church is communal in essence – just check out the Acts of the Apostle. Yes, the OT and NT alike call upon us to share with the poor (the orphan, the widow, the alien and the stranger among us). But Scripture says it was a miracle, every Gospel writer includes it in their accounts, so count me in the “it was a miracle” camp. Can I get an “Amen?”

But then there is something about the young man – and his willingness to share.

There is a story told in Kenya about an mchoro (literally a trash person). This old man slept on the streets and scavenged among the trash heaps and dumps to eek out an existence.  Then he would sit with his begging bowl on the streets of Nairobi, dodging the police, and depending on the kindness of strangers.

The word on the street was that the Supreme Chief of his tribe was coming and would pass by his “usual spot” on one of the avenues. The old man knew of the compassion and generosity of the Chief and so ready with his “speech.”  The day grew longer, the sun baked the city, and it was not until late in the day that the chief and his entourage passed by.

The old man gave the prepared speech and asked for help. Instead, the chief, extended his hand and asked the old man to give him something. The old man was surprised, stunned, but the chief is the chief, and when the chief asks…. And so, reluctantly, he reached into his satchel and gave the chief three Kenyan samosas he had received from a stranger. These were half of what would have been his dinner that night. “Asanti sana” (thank you) said the chief and went on his way.

Downcast and forlorn, the man returned to his usual sleeping place on the street. He was hungry, it was late, and time to eat the remaining three samosas. When he reached in, his hand found a samosa – at least shaped like one – only it was hard like a rock. He pulled it out. It was a rock of gold! He put his back in twice more – and retrieved two other rocks of gold.

Then the truth of the matter came to his mind. The three samosas given to the chief had returned to him three rocks of gold. “What a fool I’ve been,” he exclaimed regretfully.  “If only I had known.  I would have given him everything.”

Some 2,000 years ago, there was a young boy who generously gave everything – and from that gift, however small, Jesus worked a miracle that fed the 5,000. Some 2,000 years ago, I wonder if there were 4,999 who thought to themselves, “What a fool I’ve been. If only I had known.  I would have given him everything.”

It’s 2,000 years later. We are a Eucharist people, called to live the words of St. Francis of Assisi: “Therefore hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves, so that He who gives himself totally to you may receive you totally.”

And in doing so, Christ will work miracles through your gifts.


Come away and rest

“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”

Rest. A break from all the bustle and activity. A chance to renew, to stop, to slow. An end, a pause from work, if only for a little while. An opportunity to stop doing that you may simply be. A space in time to process, reflect upon, think, pray, to listen. We have lives filled with so much activity, so much work, so many obligations that the very idea of rest is as though the Holy Grail itself. Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t a complaint. I love my life, I love being in this parish. It’s more an observation that somewhere in all the things that make up a blessedly frenetic life, I think I’ve forgotten how to rest. It came to me last week as I stood in the very place where Jesus uttered those words to his disciples, realizing the deep need – and then someone on the tour asked, “Father, what do you think Jesus…” And the moment of my own musing and prayer passed. Continue reading

Vision of the Kingdom

The year was 1968. It was the year we first orbited the moon, the 747 jet liner made its commercial debut, the average rent for a three-bedroom house was $130/month, milk was $0.34/gallon, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and Robert Kennedy were assassinated, Intel corporation was founded, the Beatles released the White Album, zip lock bags were first sold, and the infamous Big Mac debuted at the golden arches for a whopping $0.49.

The year was 1968 – and today on that date in history, the diocese of Saint Petersburg was erected – and so today we celebrate our golden jubilee, our 50th anniversary! How about a round of applause for the Golden Jubilee! Continue reading

Sacred Heart of Jesus

Part of our task as faithful Christians and citizens of the world is to engage the deep and probing questions that the great thinkers, wisdom figures, and commentators raise. Perhaps no question is more penetrating, more challenging, and more important than that offered by the amateur philosopher, Tina Turner: “What’s love got to do, got to do with it? What’s love but a second-hand emotion?” It is the question for the ages.

It is the question for today as we celebrated the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus – a feast that offers up in high relief the love of God that has been poured into the world – and continues to the source, the fountain of love that ever pours into the world. (You can read more about the Sacred Heart here.) Today is a feast we celebrate the Love of God. Continue reading

Look deeply and see

The great thing about being a child is that you can grow up to be a fire truck (my ambition at one point in life), not be concerned with gravity and the laws of physics, and your world in not limited by “that is not just the way things work.” It is a world of imagination and wonder that sometimes befuddles babysitters, teachers, and parents. It consumes lazy summer afternoons, creates space adventures, and can conjure up a most challenging collection of wisdom and insight. Nothing captures it better than my favorite comic strip of all time, “Calvin and Hobbes.”  Calvin is a preternaturally bright six-year-old; Hobbes is his stuffed toy who, in Calvin’s imagination becomes into his best friend, the innocently wise Hobbes. To read Calvin and Hobbes is to be infused into wondering and wandering on a cosmic scale; to engage the innate human capacity to be surprised, to imagine, and be absorbed into mystery. No topic in the universe is closed to such capacity – not even the theological arts. Calvin mused how predestination is molded by procrastination, finally concluding, “God put me on this earth to accomplish a certain number of things. Right now, I am so far behind that I will never die.” Continue reading

Being the Promise

When you hear the “Great Commission” what is the prominent part that resonates with you?  “Go” – “make disciples” – “Baptizing” – “teaching” – the declaration of the Holy Trinity: “Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit?”

The Great Commission continues “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold…” In my experiment of asking people to finish the sentence most replied “I will be with you until the end…”  But the ending is different:  I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Continue reading