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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

No need to call me "Brother"

When I was 17 I started a fourteen and a half year training program. That was back when my personal files fit on a 1 MB 3.5in. floppy disk. At the end of the program I should have been a Catholic priest and I remember the greatest fear for guys like me was  "What if I get 14 years through it and then am told it isn't for me?" You try to be optimistic and then not think about that because you know some great things only happen when you take a risk. But then Murphy's Law on steriods...and it happened to me.
It's not like my worst fear has come true though because the me of the present is much different from the 17 year old me of the past. Things change. Things happen and there are certain experiences in life that make even the premature end of such a long relationship not seem like such a bad thing. The problem isn't that bad things happen. It's when they happen for the first time that shatters us and most of my "firsts" happened a long time ago.

Now is the time to toss out my business cards because in a little while I'll no longer be what they say I am, a Legionary of Christ. It's not like I never ever imaged a moment like this would come. Religious life inevitably provides plenty of moments when you'd like to hang up the cassock, box up your spiritual diaries and walk away. And though you may not have been built for that life, faith and strength of will can pull you through - at least for a while.   
Are there regrets?  You regret things like washing down Mentos with Diet Coke or texting and driving in a parking lot, but you don't regret having chased a worthwhile dream that included God, others, and yourself. Maybe I should have joined a diocese years ago like many friends suggested and then I'd be celebrating Mass instead of typing up a resume. "Maybe" of those words you're never afraid to say with hindsight. There's always room for regret but at the end of the reminiscences I'll never regret is who I am nor the friends I've made. And if I'm satisfied with the present, why tear up the past?  

The future? Yes, uncertain, the way I've come to accept it over the years. I'm not sure what my next business card will say. Apparently, there are a few diocese in the nation who wouldn't mind training a middle aged seminarian so that's at least one door in life open. Even one who's just now learning the difference between a checking account and a savings account.  

Christmas will be the first with my family since '96 so for now let's just enjoy the holidays. And then the beginning of an exciting New Year and new life carrying only the best from the past into an unknown future. After 15 years I can say the dream isn't over. It's probably just beginning.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Toughest Choice in the World

The easiest decision to make is the one between good and evil. No one comes to Sunday Mass thinking, "Should I take $10 out of the basket or put $10 in?" It's pretty clear one thing is evil and the other is good. The evil choice is hairy, hunchbacked, and full of carbuncles. Good choices are clean shaven and guiltless. So when you want to become a monster you take one path and when you want to become a gentleman you take another. Confusion is minimal. To make it easier, evil choices always come with unwanted consequences and so sometimes we'll avoid them simply for that if for nothing else. Spending a summer in rehab isn't fun, nor is scheduling in an HIV blood test - even if its free. Not to mention that what happened to Dorian Gray could happen to you. Nobody sane wants that to happen.

The toughest decision to make is the one between good and better. You will deliberate on that one, if not for days, at least long enough to leave the usher wondering if you're going to leave Benjamin in the basket or take out a twenty for change, as well. Giving a little more is hard because there aren't any bad consequences to scare us into doing it. You can choose either "some" or "more" and still live without regrets. So why choose more? That's a tough question to answer; maybe because it's also a tough decision to make.

Take for instance a young man who gives of himself completely to care for sick people for, let's say, 14 years. 14 years is a good fairy tale number. Then, one day he himself gets sick. He can easily say to himself, "I'm going to stop this work, make some money, and just look after myself." He would be completely justified in doing so. After all, he's already put in 14 years when much of the world would probably get tired of it after 14 days. He's given not just some, but a lot. It would seem that giving doesn't get easier but only tougher and each time we'll want to give more we'll need a better reason to. 

Maybe one day the decision between good and better, some and more, will come my way; and then I'll probably wish that it were as clear as right and wrong.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Right Place

"Would you like peanuts, biscotti, or trail mix?" she asks.

The gentleman next to me responds, "I want peanuts and then some M&M's, as well,...peanut M&M's that is."

"I'm sorry we don't have peanut M&M's."

"Then I don't want the M&M's, just the complimentary peanuts."

I like to help people enjoy their flight, so I contributed, "You know, you could just eat your peanuts and your M&M's at the same time and it would be like peanut M&M's."

"No, no." Without-a-doubt tone. "It's not the same, the peanuts need to be INSIDE the M&M's."

"I un-der-stand," I said sympathetically. If you can't be helpful at least be sympathetic.

Why is it better to worship in a Church rather than outside on the back lawn? Certainly not because peanuts are better inside M&M's. But if I'm going to be particular about having my M&M's pregnant with peanuts or bunching my empty hangers on the left side of the closet, I should probably give God a chance, as well, to have a few favorite places for favorite things. Christ chose to have the Last Supper in an upper room rather than picnic style. He took the trouble to lose his temper and whip the temple into a "house of prayer". Toss out the sacred structures and special places for prayer and half the Bible doesn't make sense. It's good to praise God everywhere but it's very good to worship in a sacred place; in God's opinion at least. Pray in church when you can.
So when someone asks me why I don't squat on a mountain on Sunday rather than kneel in a church, my answer is, "Don't ask me, ask Christ." It was his idea. If that's the way he likes his M&M's, I don't always ask why. I just look at my own particularities with places and try to say, "I understand."

Sunday, October 2, 2011

What makes us strong

Last week I was selling hats. I don’t sell hats for a living. If I did they would have shut off my utilities a long time ago. I design them when I’m when I'm bored and then sell them to make people happy cover my designing expenses. The hat had only one word on it. 

One lady told me, “You’re an excellent designer. I want you to design apparel for my youth group.” That was nice of her to say. With her patronage I may get my water back.
So the word on the hat was "Strength". Strength Wear. Wear Strength. The point is you don’t need a lot of words to inspire.  You just need one word that means a lot to you. Just as you don't need a lot of people to inspire you either. Sometimes just one good person will do.  
"Strength" is important to me, almost romantically important, because like the pearl from the oyster it comes from only one place. Strength comes from weakness. No one is born strong. You're born 7 lbs 8 oz, maybe 10 lbs if both your parents were linebackers. The rest of life is a journey to become strong. Weakness begins, strength follows.

Now there was one man who actually learned to become both strong and weak simultaneously. "When I am weak then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:10)." His name was Paul. Not my brother Paul; I would never quote someone from my own family to support my arguments. This Paul was still just a man, but not a man alone. No human power could be weak and strong at the same moment. Even Superman had his kryptonite moments and his "on top of the world" - literally - moments. Paul was something more than Superman. He was supernatural. He was a Christian. Christ's grace made him strong in the midst of his human tiredness and temptation.

Grace doesn't always heal human weakness but it can help you to get beyond it. Then you'll be both weak and strong in the same moment. Paul didn't need a hat to remind him of that; but like the hat he had one word that inspired him - Christ. Take the hat or Christ, or both. Just be strong.

Monday, September 26, 2011

2 is better than 1

When you’re in a tight spot you can push people away or hold them closer. That’s what I learned when I saw over a million people fighting for the same place, a front row seat at the beatification of Pope John Paul II. It was like playing musical chairs with the city of Philadelphia. To describe it as  “suffocating” would be a euphemism. Your first instinct in a tight spot is to push people away from you. Make space for yourself. But there I saw that people who had somebody close by  were more likely to survive.
A tall Spaniard looks over the heads of the crowd and peers into St. Peter’s square—everyone’s final destination.  We were still about 100 yrds from it and his wife was beginning to worry, “Is there still space, will we get a spot? It doesn’t look like it.”
“Sí, Sí,” he reassured  her. “You can’t see the whole plaza from here. It opens up more.” So Mr. Reassuring kept his wife from calling quits on the crowd and escaping through a side street. He gave her the hope she needed to spend a few more hours in a wine press in order to be poured into one of the few remaining seats. While she may have quit without her man, it’s also true that he wouldn’t have made it far without her.
The crowd picked up and rushed forward. Everyone takes off—well, takes off at the speed of cold lava. “Vamos,” he shouts.  While he rushes forward, she maintains enough perception to notice that her husband is missing something.
“Honey, didn’t you have a back pack? Where’s your back pack?”
Uh hu. Yeah. He left behind the backpack that had “everything”. Careful buddy, this is Rome. You lose your wallet and ten minutes later a gypsy is trying to buy the Pantheon with your Visa card. They may have landed a good seat for Mass but come evening they would have had much bigger problems had it not been for his wife.
In a tight spot we need to be reminded of those second grade backpack lessons. We  need someone to watch our back and maybe our bags too. Having hundreds of thousands of people around can be suffocating, but having the right person by your side may be your key to survival. That morning I learned that just when you’re pushing away some people it’s good to have one you can pull closer.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

1st Ever

This is my first blog ever; naturally, my first blog entry, as well. And if someone comments on this blog and I comment back it will be my first blog conversation. I named this blogspot "Told you you could do it" for two reasons. 

First, those are the words God most often says to me. In difficulties He's quiet, almost introverted it seems. I begin to wonder, to doubt that I'll make it through before I finally succeed. Then, with my face in my hands and feeling dum, I have to hear Him say, "Told you you could do it."

The second reason is that those are the words I most enjoy saying to others. Not because I gloat when proved right but because I like to see others succeed. There was a time when I didn't succeed. Now, I succeed every once in a while and through it all I've learned that if each person in this world had someone behind him wishing him success rather than just wishing him luck, then maybe more people would succeed. That would be good.

The end. Well what did you expect? It's my first blog and given my academic history I'm lucky I punched out two paragraphs. I think I just heard someone say, "Told you you could do it."