St. Joseph, Pray For Us

Tomorrow, we celebrate the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He is the patron saint of fathers (Joseph is also the patron saint of the Universal Church, families, fathers, expectant mothers (pregnant women), travelers, immigrants, house sellers and buyers, craftsmen, engineers, and working people in general), so he and I share a bond. I don’t have any kids like Jesus, but they try.

When I was in the Holy Land last year, we stayed at a convent built over the site of where Joseph might have lived with Mary and Jesus. It is just down the street from the Basilica of the Annunciation and next door to Joseph’s workshop, so who knows?

Nothing is recorded in Scriptures about St. Joseph’s words to his family. He gets a message in a dream, but even the Blessed Mother gets to speak once in a while. And yet, he is a model for fathers everywhere. There’s a lesson in there, albeit an ironic one, about who gets to talk and who gets to listen.

Joseph always makes me think about my father, quiet as a bookend and just as strong. As I try to land my dissertation, I am finding more and more research that speaks to the importance of fathers when it comes to raising faith-filled children. Nothing, it seems, can make up for a distant father. As I think about Joseph, I realize that in the Jewish tradition, the children learn their faith from the parent most like them. Dads teach boys and moms teach girls. It stands to reason, then, that Jesus’ own foundation in faith came from Joseph. He was the one who taught Our Lord to read, to pray the Shema, to understand the great commandments, how to worship in the synagogue, and how to rest on the Sabbath. Joseph was Jesus’ first teacher in the ways of faith. He was the best of teachers. Sure, Jesus was human and divine, but do any of us really believe that, as a small child, he was fully aware of everything, fully conscious of what was ahead? How do you square that with humanity? How do you put that in the head of an eight-year-old? No, Joseph taught Jesus, I am sure of it.

Like Joseph, I must teach my children – by word and example – what an intimate relationship with God looks like. I must teach them to pray, how to love, how to forgive, and how to rest. This week, I will be like Joseph and listen more. I will speak less. I will work hard. And, like Joseph certainly did for Jesus, I will teach my children well.

St. Joseph, patron of fathers everywhere, pray for us.

Have It All

One of the cool things about telling the Amazon Alexa in the kitchen to play music is that, every so often, she (yes, we think she’s a she) will play music that we have never heard before and we uncover a new artist or a new song. That was true last week.

The tubular device played Jason Mraz’s song, “Have It All” and we were hooked. We paused the song to ask Alexa what it was and then immediately grabbed the phone to download it. We store up credit on iTunes and share music as a family so everyone can enjoy it. It’s an earworm kind of song that gets stuck in your head, but, in this case, I am okay with that.

Apparently, the artist was visiting Myanmar some years ago, participating in a concert aimed at ending the exploitation and trafficking of young people. While traveling, Mraz noticed that Buddhist people commonly greet each other with the phrase “Tashi delek,” which translates to, “May you have auspiciousness and causes of success.”

And the song was born.

I have long thought that all music is directional – God to us, us to God, or us to each other. Most the music that I would label, “garbage” is from us to each other. Most of the music that praises God is us to God. This song, in my head, is clearly God to us. Here is how it opens:

May you have auspiciousness and causes of success
May you have the confidence to always do your best
May you take no effort in your being generous
Sharing what you can, nothing more nothing less
May you know the meaning of the word happiness
May you always lead from the beating in your chest
May you be treated like an esteemed guest
May you get to rest, may you catch your breath

And may the best of your todays be the worst of your tomorrows
And may the road less paved be the road that you follow

What a great invitation. What a challenge. We have a God who loves us unconditionally. A God who always wants the best for us. I do not believe that God wants us “to have it all” in the material sense. But I do believe God wants us to share in His love, His life, His Spirit. For me, that’s what the song says. That’s what went through my head as we danced around the kitchen, playing the song again and again.

Well here’s to the hearts that you’re gonna break
Here’s to the lives that you’re gonna change
Here’s to the infinite possible ways to love you
I want you to have it
Here’s to the good times we’re gonna have
You don’t need money, you got a free pass
Here’s to the fact that I’ll be sad without you
I want you to have it all

We are going to be hurt, but we have the power to change the world. Material things are not necessary. Just live Jesus and know that when we wander away from God, our presence is missed, though God never leaves us.

May you be as fascinating as a slap bracelet
May you keep the chaos and the clutter off your desk
May you have unquestionable health and less stress
Having no possessions though immeasurable wealth
May you get a gold star on your next test
May your educated guesses always be correct
And may you win prizes shining like diamonds
May you really own it each moment to the next

And may the best of your todays be the worst of your tomorrows
And may the road less paved be the road that you follow

So there is our challenge for the week. Love one another in a way that makes the love of God real in our lives. Be a window into the heart of Jesus. Greet others with “Tashi delek.” Wish others well by being the presence of God in their lives.

And don’t forget to sing.

Confirmed

Ace Number One was Confirmed on Saturday. She still smells like Chrism.

Several months ago, I asked her what name she was considering. “St. Thecla,” she responded, without hesitation.

“Who in the world is that?” I asked.

“She was a recluse and a virgin,” came the response.

“Oh, sweetie,” I responded in typical dad fashion, “You don’t have to be a recluse.”

“Nice dad.”

This kid misses nothing.

When I asked a few weeks later if this was still her name of choice, she told me it was and when I asked why – on a day filled with anxiety and stress from school – she told me: “Thecla was a first century strong female saint who isn’t Our Lady…and she was anonymous.”

While I was proud of her for spending more time on researching her name than most kids her age, my heart broke a little as I realized the quest for anonymity was real. She is a young lady struggling to find her place in the world, who is overwhelmed by (in her words), “the vastness of God, the sinlessness of Jesus, and the need to go to Church.”

I have never been one to let my children choose whether they go to Mass or not. We go as a family and that is the end of the conversation. But as Molly got closer to Confirmation, she had more questions about the hypocrisy of the Church, the poor leadership of parishes, the awful liturgical celebrations she has experienced, and faith in general. To be fair, she probably thinks about this more than most 13-year-olds, but this journey of self-discovery was part of her preparation, so it was part of our conversation at home.

When one of the children asks, “Do we have to go to Mass?” my response is always the same. “No.” I tell them, “We do not have to go to Mass.”

“We get to go to Mass.”

We live in a country where we get to worship as we please. We get to believe, practice, pray, and celebrate our faith freely.

“And you get to get in the car now,” is how that conversation usually ends.

It isn’t that the children don’t enjoy Mass, it’s more that, since Fr. John died, the relationship has changed – not ended. They struggle to find a relationship that is consistent and a message they can remember. He really was one of a kind.

So Molly chose to be Confirmed. Not because she has all the answers – I assured her that her own father still struggles – but because she knows now that struggling with our faith is best done at Mass.

During the homily, Bishop Caggiano directed his message directly to the Confirmandi:

“You are on the road to sainthood,” he told them. “And it happens one choice at a time.”

One choice at a time.

One Mass at a time.

One day at a time.

One child at a time.

May your week be filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit and the sweet smell of Chrism.

A Sturdy Shelter

On Friday this week, we will hear from the sixth chapter of Sirach. It is one of my favorite readings and, though we do not hear it often proclaimed at Mass, Maureen and I used it as the first reading at our wedding.

A kind mouth multiplies friends and appeases enemies,
and gracious lips prompt friendly greetings.

O Lord, this is hard. I know my mouth should be kind, but sometimes the words get from my brain to my mouth too quickly.

Let your acquaintances be many,
but one in a thousand your confidant.

Who do you trust? Who will be with you when the going gets rough? Thank God for Maureen.

When you gain a friend, first test him,
and be not too ready to trust him.

This is odd. I was taught that being the first to trust is better. Still, I suppose being cautious is relationships, especially new ones, is a good thing.

For one sort is a friend when it suits him,
but he will not be with you in time of distress.

Yes, I have met these people. They say they want to work with you, then they throw you under the bus when the work becomes too difficult.

Another is a friend who becomes an enemy,
and tells of the quarrel to your shame.

Pope Francis says that gossip is a form of terrorism.  Lord, save me from those who do not speak to my face when they are angry – and give me the courage to speak the truth.

Another is a friend, a boon companion,
who will not be with you when sorrow comes.
When things go well, he is your other self,
and lords it over your servants;
But if you are brought low, he turns against you
and avoids meeting you.

Yes, I know these people, too. They are right by your side until you are in need. Then, they are nowhere to be found. They have moved on to happier friends, those not currently in despair, those who require less of them. 

Keep away from your enemies;
be on your guard with your friends.

Makes sense to me.

A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter;
he who finds one finds a treasure.

I call her my wife.

A faithful friend is beyond price,
no sum can balance his worth.

Or her worth. Let’s be fair here.

A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy,
such as he who fears God finds;
For he who fears God behaves accordingly,
and his friend will be like himself.

A life-saving remedy indeed. They are your best editor and hear what you do not say. They save you from yourself and help you understand your needs before you are even able to identify them.

 May your week be filled with friends.

Becoming my Father

Today would be my father’s 85thbirthday. It feels like a lifetime has passed since we lost him in 2011. There is so much that has happened in my life, the lives of my family, and in the world, since he’s been gone.

I think death is like that sometimes – a great divide where suddenly you begin recalling things that happened “with dad” and other things that happen “after dad.” The older I get, the more I realize how much I am like him – his mannerisms, his jokes, even, Maureen says, the way I sometimes shuffle around.

But I struggle to be like him when it comes to his faith.

Dad prayed the Rosary every day. He only spoke when he knew he could improve upon silence or break the tension in a room with a comment that made everyone laugh. When he said he was going to pray for something, you knew he meant it. Then, weeks later, he would casually bring it up in a conversation to check up on you. He was a man of great patience, filled with the gift of wonder and awe for the people around him. All was gift. He recognized that. He lived in that understanding.

This week’s first readings are all about the creation story and my own creation story is rooted in dad. I often think about how he and mom sacrificed to send many of their eleven children to Catholic school, how going to Mass on Sunday was part of who were as a family, and how my own parent’s involvement in the church led to a lifetime of my own working for the institution.

On Saturday, my office sponsored an event and, since I am a team of one, Maureen and the children came to help out. One of the kids handled registration. Another manned the bookstore. Another helped set up breakfast and lunch. Though tired from her own work, Maureen was overwhelmed by the mess of my office and helped put things together, hoping it might lighten the stress that has crept in.

As the people were leaving, someone remarked about how they loved seeing the kids as part of the day. “You remind me of my dad,” this woman said. “Church is a family thing and your children will always remember that.”

It occurred to me as she walked away that I learned that from my father. He and mom were the epitome of involved when I was a child and I am glad my own children are having the same experience.

Happy birthday, Dad. Thank you for the valuable lessons you left behind.

Distracted

Today is the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas. I have studied his work and read his questions and answers many times. I am challenged each day by the three paths to God of which he writes: truth, beauty, and goodness. 

But I find that I am distracted. 

Distracted with worry about the child whose fever is high and whose congestion convinces her she cannot breath

Distracted by the unedited chapters of my dissertation that await my approach when I find the time. 

Distracted by the news I fear may come in the next few days or weeks.

Distracted about the trip I take this week, missing work and family and having to navigate airports and luggage and parking.

Distracted about the unfinished lists in my head and on my desk.

Distracted by the people in front of me at Mass that show up late, chatter throughout, and then leave after Communion. 

Distracted that I cannot seem to focus in prayer. 

Distracted by bills that did not get paid this month.

Distracted.

So, in desperation, I turned to the good St. Thomas: “Faith has to do with things that are not seen and hope with things that are not at hand.”

And it makes me wonder: is it a lack of faith that distracts me? If I understand that “faith is God’s work within us,” could I be so bold as to give my distractions over to God? Will any worry today fix any of these things tomorrow? Will the hope of change be enough or must there be a commitment to change, to act, to do something. 

If there really is nothing to be accomplished by worrying, why worry? 

Easier said than done. 

Perhaps, for now, I can simply ask St. Thomas to guide me, intervene for me, console me.

“Grant me, O Lord my God, a mind to know you, a heart to seek you, wisdom to find you, conduct pleasing to you, faithful perseverance in waiting for you, and a hope of finally embracing you. Amen.”

St Thomas Aquinas, pray for us.

More Than A Day Off

School and work are closed today as we commemorate the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr. The free time offers us an opportunity to catch up on sleep, watch a movie, or complete projects at home that have been waiting. But we would miss the real purpose of the day off if we did not also take a moment to remember the message of Dr. King. 

As a white American, I have never been racially profiled. My ancestors were never sold into slavery. No one has ever used a racial epithet to describe me or my children. The lenses through which African Americans see the world are not lenses through which I can see. In many ways, our stories are different and today is a chance to remember that. 

Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is by far his most quoted work. Until last year, it was the work with which I was most familiar. When I started teaching as an adjunct at a local university, I assigned Dr. King’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” to the students. It was in the book and appeared on the syllabus I inherited. 

You should read it. Everyone should read it. 

It was written after Dr. King was arrested for his leadership of boycotts in Birmingham and in response to white church leaders who were criticizing King’s methods and presence in their community. The other church leaders had published an editorial, calling him an outsider and listing several criticism of his work and his movement. 

You can hear Dr. King’s frustration and despair as he writes on napkins, newspapers, and anything he can get his hands on, trying to scrape together a response to a world that does not understand nonviolence or the plight of his brothers and sisters. 

Perhaps today we can take a few moments and read the letter in its entirety. The words he wrote then are still appropriate today. 

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

You have, no doubt, heard the first part of that quote before. But what about the rest of the paragraph? Do we behave as though the lives of others affect my life? Do we believe in King’s “single garment of destiny”? Am I really affected by what affects another? Or do I watch a 30-second clip of a video on the news or online, instantly form an opinion, and let that opinion shape my reality?

“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

We are still repenting for the sins of our past – as a society and as a community of faith. Surely part of the healing must include a commitment to be silent no longer when we hear hateful words and actions of bad people. 

“Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

How in the world are we silent in the face of hunger, poverty, racism, sexism, and outright ignorance? Why are we quiet when someone from another political party or faith or race is treated with such disdain? When did our winning have to include the humiliating defeat of the opponent? Where are the real leaders today?

And finally:

“Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice ― or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?”

It is time for people who say they believe in Jesus and all He teaches – love of neighbor, forgiveness of others, charity, hope, and peace – to show the world that hatred has no home hear, authority is never abused, everyone is welcome, and salvation is open to all. 

Spend some time studying Dr. King today. Discover his message of peace. Welcome the stranger. Forgive someone. Most of all, live a life of peace and justice so that others might look at us and see straight through to God.

May your week be blessed.

My Friend Steve

I have a friend named Steve. He’s a Catholic husband, father, grandfather, and singer-songwriter. My guess is that is the exact order he would put that list in, too. We’ve been friends for two and half decades and I first got to know him when I was in parish youth ministry in Knoxville and invited Steve to join us for our diocesan anniversary Mass. Though we are separated in age by only a few years, his children are older than mine and he’s always been the kind of father and the kind of Catholic I struggle to be. I imagine we all have people in our lives that inspire us and challenge us like Steve challenges me.

He’s been on my mind the last few days. I could pick up the phone and text, challenge him to a game of Words with Friends, or call him, but Steve has a gift for putting words to music and I wanted you to know. To be honest, I don’t listen to his music as often as I used to. My commute, since we moved, has gone from an hour every morning to about 10 minutes. I barely have enough time for the Rosary, catching up on the news on the radio, or the podcasts I used to enjoy. I love getting to work early and getting home in a hurry, but I miss some of the traditions that were once part of my morning. 

On the way out of the house yesterday, I grabbed Steve’s latest CD, High Above Our Way, for the road trip we planned to take after Church. Child number three needed shelves for his room so a trip up 95 to Ikea was on our list. I had heard some of Steve’s new music at a conference in Tampa back in December and wanted to give the whole CD a try. 

There is one song in particular that I could listen to again and again. It’s called More Beautiful and while the whole song is great, I really like the second verse and the chorus.

There is a longing we can’t deny
that God alone can satisfy
peace that none in this world can give
every good thing comes from you
you’re the source,
you’re the summit we’re reaching to. 

May we find you more beautiful,
more glorious,
more alive, and this life, more victorious,
to be more free, and all we can be,
more than yesterday.

You can listen to a sample of the song here. You can also purchase the whole album if you want or download it from iTunes. 

This year, I have resolved to make a concerted effort to tell the people who make my life better how important they are to me. Steve’s music and stories have become a mainstay of Catholic parishes and ministry to young people across the globe. But to me, he will always be the guy who wrote a song for my son’s sixth birthday, huddled with the kids on the steps of the house when we set the fire alarm off at an ungodly hour, and texted me every few weeks when dad died. He is a friend I treasure.

May his music move you as much his presence in my life moves me.

It’s time once again for the story to be told

The readings this week are all over the place, especially our Gospel readings. We hear about the genealogy of Jesus, the birth of Jesus, the prediction and conception of John the Baptist, then back to the Annunciation and final, on Friday, Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. Yes, the readings are all over the place.

Still, they are a good reminder about what we will gather next week to celebrate – God in the flesh. The miracle of the incarnation. Not unlike all of us, scattering from store to store, room to room, shopping and wrapping, dusting and decorating, this time of year is filled with a story here, a story there, a time-honored tradition of where the tree goes and who puts the star on top, and then a pause to reflect on why we do what we do.

The miracle, the wonder, the amazing bits and pieces of the story remain. There is great beauty in the truth of the story. God skips nothing: not the frantic eruption of birth or the numbness of death – through Jesus, God enters fully into humanity, even as He invites us to share in His divinity.

When I was a child, we would go as a family to the Knoxville Nativity Pageant. Every year. And every year, the narration was the same, the actors were the same, the parts were the same, the choir sang pretty much the same songs every year. And yet it was powerful and inspiring every single year. There was a line at the beginning and the end that I remember well. I can still hear the man’s voice when I close my eyes and think of those hard, wooden chairs and the smell of that parking garage.

“It is time, once again, for the story to be told. A story of peace. Of goodness. Of God as Man. It must be told. And it’s greatest beauty is its truth.”

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. May we be prepared to greet you.

Lord, I Want to See

“Then Jesus stopped and ordered that the man be brought to him;
and when he came near, Jesus asked him,
‘What do you want me to do for you?’
He replied, ‘Lord, please let me see.'”

In this morning’s Gospel reading, the author of Luke shares this powerful story of healing and puts the burden of our requests on the lips of one man (18:35-43).

“Lord, please help us see.”

This week, let us pray that we see civility return to our public discourse.

Let us pray that we see those for whom we are thankful gathered safely around our table.

Let us pray that we can see peacemakers in our families, our parishes, and our communities.

Let us pray that we can see safety in our schools and in our churches and synagogues.

Let us pray that we can see those in need around us and be moved to share what we have.

Let us pray that we can see those who need a lift up, a kind word, or an encouraging note – and be inspired to act.

Let us pray that we see a way that we can help support those who sacrifice so much for the freedoms we enjoy.

Let us pray that we can see fires quenched, homes rebuilt, lives spared, and first responders home with their families.

Let us pray that we can see the lines on the road, the signs at the corners, the lights that are red, and the cars all around us so as to arrive safely to our destinations.

Let us pray that we can see the face of Christ in those who annoy us, challenge us, and confuse us.

Let us pray, too, that we can see the face of Christ in the mirror, shedding self-doubt and remembering that we are all children of God.

Lord, help us see the truth, not as we wish it were, but as it is.

Lord, please help us see…

With a grateful heart.