Monday, February 27, 2012

Hubcaps on Branches... and Some Lenten Ashes... these are a few of my favorite things

Once in awhile, I see a shoe in the road. It's odd -- a shoe in a road, in a place it obviously doesn't belong, separated from its mate.

It's almost as odd as seeing a pair of shoes tied together and flung across an overhead wire. You can't help wondering how it got there. Why it's there. Plain old weird.

Today, while I was driving home, I noticed a hubcap that was hanging on a branch. As a driver who has lost a hubcap or two through the years, I knew why this oddball thing was hanging on a treebranch. Someone had found it and knew the owner might be looking for it. The "finder" hung the hubcap on a prominent branch in hopes that the "owner" would pass that way again and see it. The good-deed-doer would never get a thank you for his act of kindness. It was enough to know that the owner might be thankful for the anonymous help.

My friend, during Lent, you are hanging hubcaps on trees for passersby. You won't be thanked. Nobody will ever come up to you and say, "Hey, when I saw the ashes on your forehead, I felt a tug back Home."

Or, "When I took an order and the entire family chose seafood, I realized that they were Catholic and I remembered that it was Friday. That's when I went to Confession. It was the first time in fifteen years."

Or, "I couldn't quite figure out what was going on with her, but she just stopped joining in the office gossip. At first I thought she was sick, but she was in too good of a mood to be sick. Then I wondered. Could it be what she's given up for Lent?"

You are hanging hubcaps on trees. They are out there, the ones who have lost something. And when they notice the oddball hubcap hanging from a tree limb, they might just say, "Hey, that's mine. I need that back."

No acclaim.

No recognition.

No thanks.

Go ahead and hang the hubcaps, friends. And smile while you're doing it. You are about to make another person's day, or week, or eternity.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Learning to Do the Splits - Lenten-style

At the end of 6th grade, I had a big goal. I wanted to make the cheerleader squad in middle school.

Tryouts were in September. So, I spent the summer getting ready. I had to be able to do something nobody else could do. I had to be able to do something no one would expect me to pull off.

I had to be able to do the splits.

My dad's cousin Shirley told me how to train myself to do the splits. She had been a cheerleader throughout high school, and she could do the splits better than anyone I knew. She showed me the stretches and encouraged me to work my body daily. "Your muscles will cooperate with you, but you have to train them. You have to make them learn something new."

I practiced. Stretched. Attempted. Practiced and stretched and attempted the splits over and over.

For weeks.

At first, I had a good twelve inches between the floor and my body. Then ten. Five. Two. Just two.

By the end of the summer, I could do the splits. There was no space between me and the floor. None.

To top it off, I could do a cartwheel (which I had learned a few years earlier), and I could go right into the splits from there. It was stunning. Nobody else in our rural Iowan middle school could do what I could do.

I kept the secret. In September, we gathered outside for practices. We memorized the tryout cheers. We learned the jumps.

And then, without saying a word, I flung my body sideways into a perfect cartwheel and let my right leg stretch out before me, landing in the most graceful splits you have ever seen.

The girls were impressed. "How did you learn to do that?" They asked.

"I practiced. A lot."

I did not make the cheerleading squad. I simply didn't have the confidence and powerhouse voice to make the team. But I could do the splits.

I had learned something pretty amazing. From that point on, I could do a spontaneous cartwheel and splits whenever the spirit moved me. In the backyard. In the gymnasium. On the wrestling mats. Yes, even in Mom's living room when she was out of the house.

Right now, I'm working on another set of muscles. A spiritual set of muscles. It's Lent, and by the time these weeks of Lent are over, I hope to have conquered this goal of mine.

I'm not hoping to impress anyone. There isn't a squad I hope to be on (unless you're counting the Saints in heaven - that is my ultimate goal).

But I know one thing. It's all worth it. When others least expect me to do my spiritual cartwheel & splits, I hope to pull it off. When nobody is looking, I will spontaneously throw myself into this new skill.

Holiness is practiced. Sanctification is perfected.

There is as much deliberateness required in our becoming holy as there is in learning how to land on the ground with one's feet pointing both north-and-south simultaneously.

Forty Days.

Practice, practice, practice.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Got Palms? And so it begins...

So we have the burning-of-the-palms this week for Ash Wednesday at St. Ignatius School in Concord Hill, Missouri. Father told the students to bring in last year's "Palm Sunday" palms (as usual) to burn. I'm at home on this beautiful Saturday morning, and I'm looking at my palm collection. I have never remembered to bring them back to church for this meaningful ceremony. Instead, I have always placed them in a vase and kept them on a little table at the end of my hall. But THIS YEAR, I am collecting all of my palms - since my first Palm Sunday as a Catholic in 2005 - and I am giving them back to the Lord. I can't wait to pass them out to my students and have them offer my palms up in our ritual. I LOVE our Faith. What an amazing ceremony! What depths of spiritual meaning these faith rituals provide us!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

It's About the 1st Amendment: Stop the HHS

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Come, Holy Spirit!

This past week, my religion students read about the passing of the baton from Moses to Joshua. They read how Moses layed hands upon Joshua - and then Joshua went forth and led the Israelites across the Jordan River into the Promised Land.

It was a moment for an object lesson. The young people in that class were about to witness a great thing. Four of them had older brothers and sisters who would be Confirmed that night.

The Bishop was coming. In a few hours, he would lay hands upon their siblings and their newly Confirmed brothers and sisters would be ready. Ready to fulfill the work God had called them to do.

Their Jordan River awaits.

The Promised Land is within sight.

And it is set into motion with the laying on of hands.

I wanted them to understand that it is a real event - a tangible thing - this laying on of hands.

The Bishop would lay hands upon our young people, just as the Holy Father had layed hands upon him, and the Bishop would invoke the Holy Spirit's help. It had been done this way for 2000 years.

From Jesus to Peter - all the way to Pope Benedict XVI and Bishop Rice.

The very real touch of the hand goes all the way back to Jesus Christ.

As I explained this great tradition - laying on of hands - I remembered something. It is something I had not thought about for a long time.

When I was their age, my father was ordained as a Presbyterian pastor. He was installed as the pastor of two small parishes in northern Iowa. This ordination and installation required a laying on of hands. I remember seeing my father kneel, seeing some of the elders in the church gather around him, and see them place their hands upon my father as they prayed.

The ritual was as old as Sacred Scripture.

But something was missing. I did not realize this back then. I do now.

The thing that was missing was something we call apostolic succession. The prayer was real. The laying on of hands was real. The Holy Spirit was there. And the faith was real.

But the ones who stood around my father with their hands touching my dad's head - they were not part of a tangible line of apostles. Nobody had layed hands on them. Nobody had anointed them and sent them. There was no apostle in the family tree.

The literal laying-on-of-hands could not be traced all the way back to St. Peter and Jesus.

But the Confirmation students I had taught for months - the ones who were about to be Confirmed - they COULD say this.

The hands that would touch them tonight really were part of the apostolic chain that went all the way back to Jesus Christ.

I think about Dad in moments like this. I wish he had experienced this historical connection to the early Church. I wish he had known what I have discovered.

And yet, it is enough. I have made peace with even this.

I believe my father was taken along a path that went just so far. And no farther. I believe he went to the edge of the Promised Land, and then, in a mystery I cannot explain, I was sent to go the rest of the way.

I have stepped into the Jordan, following after priests and the New Ark of the Covenant. I have seen the waters part again. And I have stepped into the promise. A land filled with gifts. All for the asking.

Wisdom and understanding.
Right judgment and courage.
Knowledge and reverence.
Wonder and awe in the Lord.

Come, Holy Spirit!