Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

What's in a name?

What's in a name?

Her parents gave her a scandalous name.  In an affront with today's sensibilities her parent's are being called out for naming her at birth with a name that draws scorn. What were they thinking?

Born over twenty-one years ago, the baby was a welcomed surprise as her parent's were told they may never be able to conceive. Mary broke the news to Tom just before their vacation in the Caribbean was about to begin. Shock and awe were the emotions written on Tom's face as she broke the news. After trying for three years a new life was being knitted in Mary's womb. "Well, I guess you're going to be the designated driver for awhile", Tom quipped. The month's rolled on by, a bit slowly for Mary's comfort, as the couple prepared their home for the new arrival.

Mary was the "glue" for the extended family, hosting most holiday's, preparing for each festivity with great detail and care. However, as the time for baby's arrival drew closer to toward Thanksgiving, sister-in-law, Geri took the rains an hosted this year's meal. Till this day, Mary credits Geri's turkey dinner as the key catalyst to the start of her thirteen hour labor.  The birth had it's challenges as Doctor Paul had to bring the baby into a proper birth position. Tom and Mary waited to learn the baby's sex and on the day after Thanksgiving a seven pound, two ounce girl came into their world.

Little did her parent's know how their next decision would create such scandal some twenty years into the future, for as they say, "what's in a name?".

Tom and Mary, got the traditional baby name books. Brooke was a popular name, there seemed to be a bunch of "Claire's" around town and they weren't interested in any exotic name. But her name would have to be special, considering the circumstances of her birth and predictions of infertility.  The parents were known to be a gregarious couple, rooted toward a conservative bent, not shy to call it as they saw it and were considered by many to be religious.

The Aquino's were not your soft and fuzzy spiritual types, they were deeply rooted in their "organized" religion. Their Church is not immune to scandal, the institution pushes itself into the public  square and worked to spread its beliefs into every aspect of the public sphere, including schools, community venues and government. Moments of silence at sporting events became times of prayer, every school shooting or tragedy became an opportunity to convert the world to their "God".  Why couldn't they just keep it quiet, and leave their religious beliefs behind closed doors or vacant like the rest of us.

Today, it's not what you believe, but your chosen identity. What's relative is key to your own style and definition of success. You see, you have only yourself to rely on, and the individual is the supreme being to be worshiped. Sure the government has provided us freedom of religion, but it really just means your freedom to worship; behind closed doors of course, unless you conflict with the government's beliefs and boundaries. Life begins when the the government says, not according to your outdated superstitions. Life ends when we deem that your quality of life does not measure up to the normal acceptable minimum quality of life. Your life is yours to end, we'll even provide the doctor and means to do it quietly and privately, and disposal of your remains is as easy as taking out the trash! Choice supersedes life, especially unexpected, unplanned, unwanted life. Remember to dust you shall return, now I see where they mention recycling in that good book of yours!

So the Aquino's crossed the line. They couldn't just keep it to themselves. They didn't play the game! They frowned on sports, because it conflicted with Sunday's! Thankfulness and blessings seem to permeate every conversation. Prayer, the mindless gibberish and hopeful wishes interrupted their daily routine. Church-time and "parish" activities trumped game days. Instead of being self-reliant they were reliant on their God. Can you believe it (pun intended)? Sure cocktail party conversations remained light, until someone pushed the wrong button and asked the deep questions as to why do bad things happen, what does it all mean, and is this as good as it get's?

I get every one get's what they deserve. Karma, I guess. They say everything happens for reason. But how could they ruin this baby's future. How could they be so callous and unthinking.  How could they force their superstitious ways on this unsuspecting child. They choose to keep their dependent, dependent on something unprovable, the transcendent which is hidden from the empirical.

It seemed that her name would set her outside the pack, embrace the peculiar, turn her gaze outward, juxtaposed the coveted "selfie-shot" posturing we've all grown to love. Baby Aquino would welcome self-sacrifice and throw vanity to the wind. Her beautiful long locks of hair, donated to those accursed with cancer. Although an only child, service toward her "brothers and sisters" would outweigh personal consumption and entertainment. Empathy replaced anxiety, looking outside herself would provide insight to her inner soul.

Heart on her sleeve, she projected a shameful confidence in this perfect world. Drawn to the dregs and "skells", the unwanted and undeserved, young Aquino was unlike most of the boys and girls in her town.

She would never know the impact of her name until her early twenties when she embarked out onto the world. You see, her name was cause for pause. It challenged secular sensibilities. The beautiful people, rejected her, the government saw her beliefs as a threat to the  addiction with which it hoped to entangle the poor. Her name pointed to the transcendent, the creator, the one outside creation.  Funny it's seems that God is not so much hidden from our view, but it is us who choose to put on the blinders and walk around in the dark.

The young woman, would not walk proudly, but assume the cloak of humility, every pointing outside herself. Aggression was met with kindness, disbelief with hope, tragedy with prayer, hurt with healing and injustice with forgiveness. How odd, this woman, how curious her judgement, how different her ways! "I did not create this Way, but had it handed down to me", she would remark. "I learned this from my loved ones, and through the grace of God, I have found joy. In the suffering I see the one who showed me what sacrifice really means.  I'm as broken as the community with which I live, I suffer, I worry, I am a sinner.  I just keep working to see that which may be hard for most to see.  I see the creator in the face of everyone I meet, the addict, the drunk, the pauper, the business man, the nun, the priest, the child, the infant. My blinders are always adjusting and I hope to have them removed someday."

"I was told that a kingdom was brought about some two thousand years ago, and it's our job to bring it to completion, not on our own, but with the help of the one who creates. I've just chosen to say yes and be His instrument wherever it lead... Which I have no doubt is toward the good. You see at first I never knew the impact of my name, I had to grow into it. Now, thankfully I have a history and actions tied to the name with which I have been blessed. This scandalous name, this challenge to the world has many facets. So when you are in need, just call my name, FAITH."

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Paul, Prayer and Relationship

Paul, prayer and relationship

April 19, 2016

Very recently we lost a good friend who passed away very quickly. The shocking news of his battle with cancer came via text through a mutual friend.  With respect to his wishes, all were asked to hold off on the phone calls, visits or any social media posts so he and his family could focus on the battle at hand.

Waves of emotions flooded our minds, as we coped with the helplessness that came over us. Although I knew my friend for thirty years, I had let the relationship slip away, and resigned myself to "liking" Facebook posts as he and his wife posted various accomplishments of their two wonderful children.  Was this anyway to have a relationship?  Posting "likes" and feeling that, "well I've just done the least I could do to reach out to an old friend, a roommate, a buddy"?

In a blink of an eye, ten years have passed, as I watched a relationship drift, like a fallen leaf in a steam. It was too easy not to pick up the phone and make the "how are you doing call" as your friend comes to mind. Just chalk it up to the way it is, people move into your life and out of your life, that is until that someone's life here on earth comes to an abrupt end.

Paul, I'm sure you can hear me now.  I am sorry for dropping the ball, letting time and the busyness of life get in our way! Please forgive me.

As I get older, I have become more introspective. Questioning my actions, exploring my faith tradition, trying to be bold and courageous, and yes, trying to be more attentive to my spouse. (although unsuccessful at times). Sometimes I feel very emotional, even "mushy" by other's standards, raising questions, challenging thought and trying change my behavior.

The call to serve God, potentially as a Deacon and going though the Diaconate Formation process has forced me to shine the spotlight on where I have been, and my unworthiness to serve. God has corrected my path, and given me the blessings of a wonderful wife (Debbie) and daughter (Faith, Elizabeth) and the many friends, family and parishioners who have supported and challenged me, providing me with the right road signs.

I'm blogging this down, as a near distant lesson for myself to make things right. To reach out to his family and rebuild the connection.  A lesson brought out as we mourned our friend's passing as each remaining friend vowed to keep in better touch.

As a fifty-something guy, I often point my judgmental finger at the youth of today, and preach about their lack of social skills and presumed shallow relationships. Well my finger is pointing back at me in a big way. I have failed at "the reaching out" part. Despite my failings, God's GPS keeps trying to reroute me to His right path. Even though, I choose to make the wrong turn when I know the right way, God re-shuffles the deck and gives me a new route.... "Recalculating, recalculating, Steve make the right turn up ahead."

As I work on prayer life and the relationship God always offers, I have come to realize that if I have a "Living God", in the person of Jesus, I need to keep my end of the relationship by reaching out in prayer, and picking up the scriptures. (yes, I've dropped the ball on these items as well many times). The talking and listening of a relationship that transcends this world.

I pray for my friend Paul and I pray for his wife and kids as they struggle to make sense of his passing. I was strengthened by Pat's strength in keeping it together during the past few days.  I pray God's grace will continue to provide for her and her children.

Relationships are key to the grace we get from God in abundance, especially through the good friends we have and the good friends we lost.

So when you see me on your caller ID, let's pick up where we left off.

Mr. Wilson - "No Problem"

April 19, 2016

My wife often refers to my "Mr. Wilson" attitude when I ponder the small things. You may recall the Mr. Wilson character in "Dennis the Menace" cartoon strip or sitcom of the same name. Cranky Mr. Wilson often seemed irked by the shenanigans of his neighbor's son, but in the end, they had a sustaining relationship. A relationship I hope to build with the millennial's of today.

How many time each day have you gotten the response, "No Problem" during your casual interactions?  I know I'm guilty of this. Have we lost the "Please" and "Thank you" and "You're Welcome"  of our childhood manners training?

Words have meaning and I'd like to unpack this a bit further. So please excuse my "Mr. Wilson".

A friend just posted an article on gratitude which made me wonder. Are we less gracious on the small things and does this affect our gratitude with life in general? When I say "no problem, am I saying, serving you or helping you is no problem to me?  Is the focus turned inward or outward to the other?  Sir here's your coffee, and it's no problem, you are not my problem.

Juxtapose the "thank you" and "you're welcome".  I am thankful for you, "I welcome you" redirects our perspective from an inward direction out to the other.

I believe by working on these small gestures we can provide a better, yet small example on how to serve our brothers and sisters and take the focus off ourselves and look to the gratefulness of service from and for our brothers and sisters.

So till next time....Stay off my lawn!  Thank you

Friday, March 25, 2016

Of all things, how can this Friday, be "Good Friday"... Is this as good as it gets?

These past few years I have tried to put Good Friday aside, take off from work and reflect on this day, part of the Easter Triduum, the High Holy days for Christians around the world.

Yesterday, I heard the sad news of an old friend, suffering a terminal illness, a shock to all of us.  We have not been in touch for many years, except for the occasional glance at Facebook posts. We were told the news by a mutual friend, and cautioned that he and the family wanted no visitors in what seems to be his last days.

I ask for your prayers, as he and his family struggle through these days. I ask you to pause and say a prayer and ask for God's comfort to guide them through this difficult time.

Before I placed the Crucifix around my neck this morning, I studied it a bit, and noticed the Resurrected Christ on the back side of the cross. I know there is no Resurrection without the Passion, no glorified body without the Cross. The Mystery of the Passion, Death and Resurrection is on my mind as I suspect is on many minds throughout the world today.

I remember the days when I "lost touch" with my faith, let it drift away, with only an occasional glance during times of hardship.

"Is this as Good as it gets?"  Why is this day called "Good Friday", why is the Crucifix a sign, symbol and a sacramental for salvation? At first glance, it doesn't make sense. Why the suffering of Jesus then and why do we endure suffering today?

Jesus Christ was falsely accused, betrayed, tortured, humiliated, and hung on a cross as a sign of shame to the people of his time. He humbled Himself, took on our humanity and sin as reparation, and became a path away from our fallen nature. Today as we suffer, good people suffer, and there is no-one alive who has not suffered.

Without the Resurrection, without the love of God, breaking into our time, becoming Incarnate, this day, Easter, would all be folly.

Scriptures tell us that Jesus was well aware of his pending Passion. He truly suffered mental and obvious physical distress. Knowing the Will of the Father, Jesus accepted his Passion and set an example of Love for the world. The capital punishment of Crucifixion was meant to torture, humiliate and shame. Only God could take this and turn it on it's head, and make it a symbol of the faith and His love to save us from our sins, and provide a path to salvation. A path to right relationship with our Creator.

As I consider all the people in the Passion narrative, my soul searching continues. I recognize my fallen nature; the times that I have inflected suffering on others, the times that I have not been an instrument of peace; the times that I have been indifferent, distant, detached. This becomes ever more clear when I hear about the suffering of a friend, and the regret I have for not knowing, not reaching out to him, his family, not rebuilding the broken bridges.

Suffering brings us to our knees, changes our perspective, for better or worse.
Through it all, we have a longing for relief, the need to be made whole again, the longing for peace. I do not know why we must suffer, I can only attest to my own bouts with pain and suffering and testify to where it has formed me and brought me.

Suffering has called me to focus on relationship. The vertical relationship between God, my Creator and self, and the horizontal, between each other, the vertical and horizontal beams of the cross. I live with the hope to mend the broken relationships, recognize the times I weaken them, and work to strengthen the ones I have left, while building new ones.

Faith, introspection, contemplation, meditation, whatever the instrument, I believe we are called to ask ourselves, is this "As good as it gets?". Looking back over the decades, I see the crooked lines with which God has directed my straight path. I know now that I was never alone, even through the drifting, poor decision, and the destructive behavior. The Love which transcends this world surrounds me, and is deep inside me and you.

I know many of us will approach this Easter Season, from many perspectives. Some from a place of hurt and suffering, some from a place of joy, some from a place of indifference.  I recognize that life is a journey. I have come to believe that this is not as good as it gets and there is more, there is that which transcends, which calls us to joy and walks beside us through our suffering.  Today we remember and hope, and with God's Grace are called to action. I look and pray for the hope of self-conversion. I seek to be God's instrument, may He increase as I decrease. I ask for your continued prays and support.

May we all accept the grace, strength and understanding to follow God's Will for us. May we increase the good in our world.  May this Easter bring Love, Joy and Peace to your family and friends.