Steve Timm's Blog
CABINET OF CURIOSITIES
A few days ago, I happened to notice something about the various curio cabinets in our home. In a very real way, the contents of the cabinets revealed snapshots of our lives, travels and pilgrimages. The collection spanned many decades and, like our own individual personalities, the subjects were delightfully diverse.
There was a mini-herd of hand-carved ivory elephants that I brought home from a lengthy safari in Zimbabwe. And, on the same shelf was a giant land snail shell that I picked out of the sand in South Africa’s Northern Transvaal.
The next shelf down displayed several more eclectic objects. Amongst them was my great-grandfather’s drawtube telescope from the 1850s. Considering the many trails over which Henrik Timm carried the telescope, it’s incredible that it survived at all … but it did and the optics are in perfect shape.
Another prize is a fired .50-110-450 cartridge case that I found lying on a boulder while I was exploring a remote ridge in the Hell’s Canyon wilderness. The round was most likely fired from a Winchester Model 1886 lever-action rifle. The “Big .50” was unnecessarily powerful for the mule deer and sheep that are native to the area, so it’s likely that the hunter’s query was one of the resident Rocky Mountain elk.
In studying the head stamp and manufacturer, it was pretty easy to date .50-110-450 cartridge case to around the turn of the 20th century. I’d like to think that the hunter of the past killed his family’s winter meat supply with that single shot. In truth, I believe that is precisely what happened.
Another item on that shelf is a piece of quartzite that looks for all the world like a human thumb; fingernail, first joint and all. I found “The Finger” on the gravel bar while fishing for large brown trout just south of the Woodside Bridge on the Bitteroot River. I was a Montana farm kid at the time, but the image of a perfectly formed finger and joint was never missed on me.
And finally, there is the piece of burial jade that a dear friend gave me. Believe it or not, it’s a very large nephrite jade ceremonial axe blade that has seen a lifetime (or more) of use. The blade is well over two-thousand years old and it was discovered in a grave with the remains of a Chinese priest. Indeed, the jade instrument is the weirdest and coolest piece in my collection of arcane and downright interesting things.
Karen’s additions to the curio cabinets seem to be centered around a single subject; Scottish terriers. Yep, Karen loves everything about Scotty dogs and her brass-and-glass cabinet is overflowing with Scotty figurines, Scotty stuffed toys, Scotty napkin rings, Scotty … well, you get the picture.
Karen and I also collect religious books that reflect our intense interest in our Catholic faith. Obviously, this is a “centered” collection and our “Catholic bookcase” is truly a curio cabinet.
The Age of Discovery
The Age of Discovery began in the late-15th century and it was an unparalleled time of world exploration. The age was ushered in by the voyages and discoveries of Bartolomeu Dias, Christopher Columbus, Vasco de Gama, Ferdinand Magellan and many others.
It is said that the Age of Discovery didn’t truly end until the extensive exploration of the earth’s polar regions in the 20th century.
Personally, I see this as being in error; I believe that the greatest era of the Age of Discovery is yet to come with the exploration of the moon, the planets in our solar system and, beyond that, the very stars of our galaxy.
Cabinet of Curiosities
The concept of the “Cabinet of Curiosities” was born in the early-16th century when the explorers and others came back to Europe with things that were beyond common knowledge. It soon became popular for folks to collect such items, if for nothing else than to stimulate their imaginations.
At the time, the word “cabinet” meant two things; it could either be a piece of furniture that was designed for the display of “curiosities” or an entire room.
Basically, the concept was that the curiosities were a collection of objects that were beyond the categorical boundaries of common definition. Also, the collections could either be random items of interest or they could relate a central theme.
The collections that are in our curio cabinets are examples of this. Karen’s glass-and-brass display is centered around “anything Scotty dog” and my small accumulation is made up of random items that happened to interest me.
Friends, it’s only human nature for each of us to surround ourselves with items that interest us or stimulate our imagination. These items are as diverse as our individual personalities.
Oh, one final point, the word “curio” is a mid-19th century abbreviation of the word “curiosity.” The Oxford Living Dictionary defines a curio as “a rare, unique or otherwise intriguing object.”
GOD’s Cabinet of Curiosities
Granted, it sounds peculiar to consider ourselves to be the points of interest in GOD’S Cabinet of Curiosities, but that is precisely what we are.
God created our souls, He made the act of our conception possible and He implanted our souls within us at the very instant of that conception. Further, He gave us life outside of the womb and He has played an active role in each one of our journeys through life.
He also gave us individual personalities and free will. God is saddened when we make wrong choices and He rejoices when we follow the Path that was plainly laid out for us by Jesus, His Son.
There can only be one reason for this … it because of the inescapable fact that GOD LOVES US.
And Thanks Be To God For His Love.
May God Bless You
CHUB AND STEVE’S SPECIAL THANKSGIVING
For well over a decade my friend, Chub Eastman, and I enjoyed an annual big game hunt in central Alberta. It was always a relaxed hunt.
It was a time for us to just open ourselves to God’s Wonders of the Wilderness. It was also a time to enjoy a full week with each other’s companionship and to be with our Albertan friends.
Big game season opens on November 1st in Alberta. Chub and I loved hunting on opening day, so we usually flew to Canada and arrived mid-day on October 31st. Philip, our outfitter and chief guide, always picked us up at Calgary International and drove us a couple of hours north to his guiding headquarters.
On one of our last hunts together, both Chub and I were lucky enough to harvest our big game animals within the first couple of days.
When I arrived back at the ranch house with my last critter, an ancient mule deer buck, I was met by Philip’s wife, Sheila. Apparently, she’d made a decision … we were going to celebrate our good fortune.
Chub and Steve’s Special Thanksgiving
Sheila told me, “Steve, Canada was the first country to celebrate Thanksgiving and it is a tradition that goes back fully forty years before your Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock.”
She went on to say, “We Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving on the second Monday of October. And I realize that you Yanks give thanks on the fourth Thursday of November. In light of your bountiful harvest, why don’t we split the difference and share a prayerful meal of thanks? … We’ll call it Chub and Steve’s Special Thanksgiving.”
Then, Sheila asked me if I knew the name of the Thanksgiving holiday in Canada. Of course, I pled ignorance and with great feeling she told me, “Steve, our official name is as long as it is reverent. In 1879, the Canadian Parliament designated the holiday as ‘The Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God’.”
All I could say was, “WOW!”
Chub finished the conversation by adding, “I’ve already switched our return flight to Friday at noon … so, we’ll have plenty of time to celebrate Steve and Chub’s Special Thanksgiving Feast on Thursday afternoon.”
With that, Sheila marched to the back door and started preparing for the celebratory meal.
During the next day and a half, Chub and I boned our game animals, went coyote hunting and explored the local backwoods general stores. It was a fun time, two brothers of the hunt just spending quality time together.
For Sheila, the proposed Special Thanksgiving seemed star-crossed from the beginning. That afternoon, Tuesday, the propane froze up and it took until Wednesday morning for the bonfire under the tank to rectify the situation. The temperature plummeted to -25º Fahrenheit that night, so we all put four or five extra blankets on top of our bedcovers.
On Wednesday, the sewer line that ran the full length of the ranch house froze solid. Charlie, the local Ukrainian plumber, finally got the pipe snaked out. That chore alone took twelve hours and several trips under the house with a blowtorch.
By the time Charlie was done with the snaking and the blowtorch work, the home fairly reeked of … well, sewer stuff. Sheila placed scented candles everywhere and, after a few hours, declared that her home now smelled like summer season lilacs … or something. I remember thinking, “The ‘or something’ still stinks.”
The biggest problem was the turkey. Apparently, Philip bought a mammoth frozen turkey and there was no way it was going to fit into the oven. Sheila came up with the solution; she would finish the thawing of the gobbler with Charlie’s sewer blowtorch. Then, we’d solve the size problem by splitting the turkey lengthwise and she’d shoehorn it into a special cooker she borrowed from Philip’s mum.
Chub, Philip and I were given the task of splitting the turkey. So, bright and early on Thursday morning, we faced the challenge. Sheila thought it would be tacky to halve the bird with an axe, but left us men to find another way to do it.
Philip came up with the perfect solution. Visiting hunters always want to take their moose antlers home and Phil had a special chain saw that was dedicated solely to this purpose. Even better, the chain saw has always used vegetable oil as bar lubricant, so we’d have no nasty petroleum in our turkey bird.
Philip was the owner of the chain saw, so he got the honor of lowering the business end of the bar through the carcass. Chub and I were assigned the chore of holding the turkey solidly to the dining room table. Obviously, Sheila was out of the house for a spell; otherwise, she would never have allowed this type of men’s shenanigans to happen.
So, with a valiant pull, Philip started the chain saw. It burped and belched blue exhaust smoke and eventually the engine caught. Then, he lowered the bar to the center of the turkey’s breast. And through the blue smoke and incredible noise, I could see turkey mist flying … all over the kitchen window, in a line across the ceiling tiles and all over Philip’s face and chest.
Down, down, down he cut and when the saw started digging into Sheila’s treasured dining room table, he stopped. With a HUGE grin, Philip proclaimed that the turkey bird was cut in half, fair and proper.
Actually, it looked pretty good, except for the deep slice in the table and the ground-up moose hair that was spread uniformly through the flat surfaces of the split turkey breast.
About that time, Sheila walked in the door. She stopped, looked at the copious blue air, the sprayed turkey chips and her butchered dining room table. Sheila’s face said it all, she was a little disappointed in her men-folks ability to cut a turkey in half.
Then, we all started laughing. The absurdity of the total event was the stuff of which memories are made. There are good memories, bad memories and those like this … incredibly hilarious memories.
We all pitched in and helped with the final preparation. Chub peeled, boiled and mashed the potatoes. Sheila fussed around the turkey and wrapped it like a mummy in aluminum foil. And after a while, I was assigned to tend the gravy and to extricate any potential lumps.
Sheila gave Philip “THE LOOK” and told him that he should do anything of which he was capable… just as long as it didn’t involve his moose-antler chain saw.
When Sheila pronounced the dinner ready for serving, we all carried our particular dish to the table. I noticed that Sheila carefully covered the chain saw ding with a huge doily and put the serving tray the held the turkey pieces on it.
Then, we all sat down to share in the feast. Sheila told us that this was a special dinner, one giving Thanks to God because their friends Steve and Chub had come for a visit and that they had harvested their family’s winter meat supply.
And, finally, Sheila asked us to all join hands and join her in saying Grace.
She did the Sign of the Cross and said, “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Sheila continued, “Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy Gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen.” She sealed the prayer with another Sign of the Cross and we all joined in a loud, “AMEN.”
As we all filled our plates and engaged in a rowdy conversation, I looked around at my friends. There was Chub, a good friend that I loved like a brother. And there was Philip, Sheila and their son, Jason … good folks and true friends.
I sat there in total awe, just drinking it all in.
If there was friendship and love anywhere in the world, it was surely there at Sheila’s table as we celebrated Steve and Chub’s Special Thanksgiving Feast.
It was a Thanksgiving I will never forget.
May God Bless You,
PS. Chub is gone now; gone to meet Our Lord in Heaven. I pray for his soul every day. Please join me this Thanksgiving in praying for my forever-friend Chub. God Bless, Steve
A SPHERE OF PUREST GOLD
As many of you know, I was a goldsmith for most of my working life. Goldsmithing was like any other job; there were many routine chores and then there were some that absolutely brought my soul alive.
The facet of goldwork I enjoyed the most was taking “old gold” and returning it to new life. Let me explain more thoroughly:
A Sphere Of Purist Gold
A few times every month, customers would bring in their family’s old gold. Normally, the client wanted me to take the gold item that had seen a lifetime of use and turn it into something fresh and new.
The gold itself had significance to these folks. It was not about monetary worth, but rather a sentimental value that goes well beyond measurement in dollars and cents. The pieces I worked with were usually deceased spouse’s wedding rings and gold jewelry inherited from the passing of parents and grandparents.
Believe it or not, the surface of gold jewelry has pores and after a lifetime (or two) of use, the metal has to be refined. Goodness knows what was in the pores, but I always imagined they were packed with skin dander, hand cream, remnants of fifty-year old meatloaf and … well, you get the picture. Take my word for it, old gold can be truly nasty.
In a small shop setting, the best way to return the gold to its original “fine” state is to carefully go through a few simple steps.
First, the old gold is put into a ceramic crucible with an aspirin-sized dollop of borax crystals. Then, the gold is melted with an oxygen-acetylene torch until it loses all of its previous shape and collapses down into a ball.
The borax acts as a flux; it remixes the alloys and brings oxidized impurities to the surface of the gold ball in the form of “slag.” The last step in refining the gold is to carefully spoon off the slag.
At that point in time, the gold in the crucible is an incredible sight. The metal has now become what I’ve always thought of as “A Sphere Of Purest Gold.” The molten gold sphere is now the most glorious shiny red-orange-gold color and it is beautiful beyond description.
Many times, while the refined gold was still molten, I’ve called Karen over to my goldsmithing bench, just so we could share in the beauty together. It was literally like watching a perfect sunrise with the lady I love.
And, of course, from this state of perfection, I was able to fashion the gold into a new form … a form that pleased my client.
The lesson here is that fire and great heat can be an enormously cleansing force. It can bring beauty out of ugliness … it can bring new life from old.
Father Rick’s Homily
Father Rick gave our congregation an amazing gift last Sabbath; his homily was about Purgatory. This was absolutely the perfect subject because November is the month that we Catholics dedicate to the Holy Souls in Purgatory.
One of Father Rick’s points stood out above all the rest. He told us that Purgatory is “One of God’s Most Wonderful Gifts to Us.”
Frankly, I’ve not thought of Purgatory as being a “Wonderful Gift,” but Father Rick is absolutely correct in his assessment. In truth, Purgatory is a God-Made place or action (it could be considered either a noun or a verb) that assures all of those who follow Jesus a place in Heaven with God.
Another bullet point of Father Rick’s homily was that we should consider Purgatory to be an entry hall to Heaven. When we are in Purgatory, we are not quite there yet, but we’re surely well on our way to spending Eternity with God.
Finally, the good Father touched upon the fact that our souls are cleansed of all vestiges of sin in Purgatory. In this statement, I believe he was referring to 1 Corrinthians 3:11-15.
Father Rick’s homilies are always excellent, but this was one that really spoke to my heart. Truly, I will remember this homily for the rest of my life.
At some point near the middle of the homily, a lightbulb went off in my brain. I equated our souls being purified in Purgatory to my goldsmithing experience. Indeed, the purification of holy souls is an exact parallel with the refining process of old gold.
In the case of gold, the metal is transformed from a dirty, used state to a perfectly pure condition. And it is only after the refining process that the gold is ready to be formed anew.
It only makes sense that if we arrive at the Entrance to Heaven with the stains of forgiven sins still upon us, there should be some sort of purifying. And that process of purification undoubtedly involves the “Fire” of God’s Love.
At least in my mind’s eye, I can imagine holy souls that have been cleansed looking very much like my “Spheres of Purist Gold” … they are beautiful, they are absolutely perfect in every way.
Indeed, it is the ONLY by the Grace and the Fire of God’s Love that we are able to spend the Rest of Eternity with Him in Heaven.
Thanks Be To God For That.
May God Bless You
THE STORY OF A HOME
In July of 1964, shortly before our marriage, Karen and I bought a brand new house. We were starving students at the time and working our way through college. Being levelheaded kids, we decided that making mortgage payments would eventually give us something of value, while renting an apartment would not.
We spent our wedding night in the house and from that point in time, we made it our home. We’ve lived here ever since.
There is a distinction to be made here; a house is an empty living structure; it is a shell. And a home is a place where a family lives; a home is full of loving, both between family members and with God.
During the last fifty-two years our home has “grown with us.” We added a covered back deck and, when we needed a workout room and office, we built a 450 square-foot addition. We also poured a concrete trailer pad and had the electrical system beefed-up to accommodate a plethora of new electronic gadgets. Actually, the list is almost endless; over the years, we “tweaked” our home to fit our lifestyle.
Forced to guess, I’d say that our home attained its finest condition about five or ten years ago.
Today, our home is in very slow decline. Our side and back fences are rotting and rickety, I haven’t cleaned the gutters for a spell and there are a million little things that need to be fixed. Our home isn’t collapsing around us, but it isn’t as pristine as it used to be.
Still, our home is precious to both of us. It was the place where our Young Love veritably blossomed and it is the place where our Old Love continues to flourish and thrive to this very day.
We are totally aware of the fact that age and health issues will eventually force us to move to an adult living facility (a cutesy PC term for “Old Folks Home”). However, we also feel that we’ll stay younger and more vital by living here as long as we can.
When our physical condition forces us to sell, hopefully a young family will buy our home and return it to its past glory. And we pray that our beloved home will once again be place where Young Love blossoms.
At least in my mind’s eye, I can see the young family raising a flock of kids, adorable dogs and maybe even a few kitty cats in our home. Hopefully, our home will again be a place of incredible laughter, noise and total chaos; that would be a wonderful thing.
If the young family is lucky enough to live long and prosper, they will repeat the cycle that Karen and I have experienced; … living, loving and eventually growing old together.
In time, perhaps in another fifty years, our home will be bulldozed to the ground and a new living structure will take its place. That’s simply inevitable; it’s the Cycle of Life.
A VERY SHORT Reflection
Friends, our physical bodies are very much like the house-versus-home distinction. Without a soul, without a Love of God and without Jesus for a guide, we are an empty shell. But, when the soul, the Love of God and Jesus are added, we are then ready to lead our life upon earth as God intended.
I believe that the Young Love-versus-Old Love component is there, as well. As “young” Catholics, we are blushingly in love with God and as we mature, we love Him to the very center of our souls; that is when the wonderful element of Old Love develops.
Eventually, like the structure of our home, our bodies break down and we die. Again, that is the Cycle of Life.
And it is then that we who have loved Him enough during our short lives on earth are given the unmerited favor of spending all Eternity with God.
May God Bless You
THE ICON OF LIFE
Friends, by now you know that my earliest Catholic mentor was a wonderful Irish priest. His name was Father Brendan Shea and I’m convinced that he was sent into my life by God Almighty. To say that Fr. B was a positive influence on my life during my formative years would be an incredible understatement.
During one of our last meetings, Father Brendan brought up a very interesting subject; that of what he called the “Icon Of Life.”
I’d heard about icons, but I knew very little about them. And, frankly, the addition of the term “life” totally threw me for a loop.
Father Brendon went on to explain; “Traditionally, icons are a pieces of religious art. They can be statues or carvings, but the vast majority of icons are paintings. By definition, icons are sacramentals; objects of faith that help the worshiper “channel” their adoration and worship of God. Oh, and just so you will always use the correct terminology, icons are referred to as having been ‘written,’ not painted or carved.”
He went on to say, “This type of art form comes to us from the very-early Catholic Church and they are incredibly important in the worship of the Eastern Orthodox tradition. We Roman Catholics love icons, as well, but they are not used in our liturgy.”
Then, the good padre gave me a thumbnail sketch of what makes up an icon. First of all, an icon tells a story but, like God and Eternity, there is absolutely no timeline.
In other words, an icon could depict Adam and Eve, Moses, the Blessed Virgin Mary and Jesus in the same artwork, even though they did not all exist at the same time. It’s the story itself that is important, not the timeline of the persons and events in the story.
Secondly, the main character is always the largest and most prominent image in the artwork. The other characters depicted in the icon are given physical sizes that are relative to their importance to both the main character and the telling of the story.
Father Brendan told me that iconography, the study of icons, is a deep and rich field. He went on to say that our little ten-minute introduction to icons wasn’t even one-thousandth of one-percent of the average iconographer’s knowledge. It was just enough to introduce the main part of our lesson … The Icon Of Life.
The Icon Of Life
The conversation then shifted to the subject at hand; the Icon of Life.
Fr. B started the lesson by saying, “Steve, Old Son, I’d like you to adapt the “Icon Principle” to your own life. I want you to think about the most important person or thing in your life. That person or thing can be alive, dead or entirely spiritual. And if you come up with anyone other than Jesus, I’m gonna cut off your supply of Cuban cigars.”
At that, I responded, “Yes, Father, I understand perfectly. God is by far the most important thing in my life and the figure of Jesus, God totally reduced to human form on earth, is the perfect representation. Jesus will be the largest image in my Icon of Life and every other character or event will be both smaller and behind Him.”
With a HUGE grin, Father Brendan said, “Good Boy, your supply of Cubanos is secure; at least for the time being.”
Father got out a large piece of drawing paper and asked me to draw a large figure of Jesus in the lower center. This was the beginning of my Icon of Life.
From this basic start, we went on to order the most important people in my life. All of them standing behind Jesus and their sizes were in proportion to their standing.
At first, I ranked the people by order of their positive effect on my life. Father B. noticed that instantly and he pointed out that we often learn by negative example. He suggested that I should put the “good folks” on the right of Jesus and behind Him. Similarly, the “baddies” went to the left of Our Lord and to the rear.
Then, he asked me to list the events of my life by order of importance and their influence on the person that I had become. This time, Father Brendon asked me to put the “good events” on the far right side of the piece of paper and the “bad ones” on the extreme left.
After I’d done that, Fr. B told me that this was the icon of my life at that particular moment, but that the relationships of life were constantly changing. Because of this, my Icon of Life would also in constant flux.
He pointed to the figure I’d placed right behind Jesus; it was Grandpa Hank. Fr. B then said, “Steve, I know that you are currently courting a wee lassie named Karen. I see the love in your eyes and I highly suspect that you will eventually enter into the Sacrament of Marriage with her. Trust me, Old Son, Karen will soon take Grandpa Hank’s place and the old fella will be shuffled back a place or two … and I know for a fact that Hank would have it no other way.”
After a while we broke for a wee drop of that fabulous single-malt Irish whiskey that Fr. B called “Tears of the Angels” and a Cubano. It was then that Father Brendon told me that the Icon of Life is a concept that had always helped him keep centered. He recommended that I follow his example and keep my own up-to-date Icon of Life throughout the rest of my journey on this earth.
He also told me I could draw my Icon of Life on a piece of paper, just as I did that evening, or I could simply make a list; either on paper or simply in the privacy of my own mind.
It’s been over a half-century since that watershed visit with Father Brendon. Given the wisdom of time, I can honestly say that our discussion changed my way of looking at the many aspects of my life.
Fr. B taught me the proper order of things; my Love of God will always be “front and center” and that love has greatly influenced every other relationship. And that is as it should be.
Father Brendon was absolutely correct when he opined that the “Wee lassie named Karen” would take Grandpa Hank’s place as the second most important person and influence in my life. Somehow he had known what I only suspected, but I guess that came from his many years of priestly insight.
When I get to Heaven, I pray that I will be fortunate enough to meet Father Brendan Shea again. I’d love to hug him one more time and thank him once more for being such a wonderfully positive influence on my life.
I have no doubt that the resourceful priest smuggled a few Cubanos and a wee dollop of Tears of the Angels through the Pearly Gates. And hopefully he will share.
As our beloved Monsignor Rick once told me, “Anything, absolutely ANYTHING, is possible for an Irish priest.”
I believe him.
May God Bless You.
FATHER BRENDAN’S BOOK OF LIFE
When I was a sophomore in college, I took “Instruction” classes at Saint Agatha Catholic Church, in Sellwood. Father Brendan Shea was my teacher and the old Irish priest, who loved a wee bit of single-malt whisky now and again, was patient and kind.
Our meetings were wonderful; I was his only student, so we’d talk the Gospel and the Church for an hour or so … then, take a break for Cuban cigars and an incredibly polished whiskey that the good padre called “Tears of the Angels.”
Father Brendan’s catechism class was an exercise in loving God and learning to be totally open to God‘s love. It was simple and easy; just be open to God and enjoy everything that life brings.
One of Father Brendan’s favorite subjects was what he called “The Book of Life.” Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the incredible wisdom of the concept and I’ve often wished that it was taught in RCIA today.
Father Brendan’s Book of Life
Father Brendan started out by telling me that me something that we all know; that God is beyond time. He went on to explain that God lives in Eternity; there is no past, there is no future; God lives in what Fr. B called the “Eternal Now.”
Frankly, it took a while for me to grasp the Eternal Now concept. In truth, I’m still working on it … I may “grasp” it, but I’m becoming more and more convinced that there is more to it than we mortals can totally understand.
From that point, Fr. B explained that God created man and He gave us the concept of time. The passing of time measures our earthly journey from beginning to end.
And, of course, Fr. B then cracked the ancient joke that, “God gave time to mankind so that everything in our lives wouldn’t happen all at once.” I was smoking one of the good padre’s excellent Cubanos at that moment and I almost choked to death from strong smoke and laughter.
Then, he went on to explain that our lives in time are very much like the development of the story line in a book. A book starts out slowly; the scene is described; then, the characters are introduced and the theme revolves around the characters and their experiences. And, by the end of the book, the main character has either succeeded or failed. Without this part there literally is no reason for the book to have been written.
After we talked about the concept of books for a while, Fr. B went on to say, “Stevie, Old Son, let’s discuss what I like to call ‘The Book Of Life’.”
He explained that God gives us a soul upon conception and when we are born we are both physically and mentally a blank page. Like the beginning of a book, the scene is set, but the characters have to meet each other and gradually establish relationships. In life, most babies are greeted by their family; a loving mother and father and siblings. This is the first chapter of life.
Father Brendan went on to say, “Steve, Laddy Boy, we Catholics truly believe that Baptism is efficacious in jump-starting the person’s spiritual life. After all, it is then that the Holy Spirit Himself marks you as Forever A Child of God … and that’s precisely why we Baptize babies.”
As time goes by, new relationships and experiences develop. At this point, the new person starts to learn the rudimentary concepts of good, bad, pleasure and pain. To illustrate this, Fr. B gave a personal example: When he was an infant, he placed his hand on a red-hot stove burner and he instantly understood why his mother had told had repeatedly told him, “Bad, Bad, Bad.” This is the second chapter of life.
Life progresses and our learning becomes more sophisticated. We gain a moral code, a personal perception of right and wrong, and we learn that there are concepts beyond our mere human senses. We gain a sense that we have an immortal soul and we learn about God.
Father Brendan told me that one of the most beautiful things in his life as a priest was to witness a child’s absolute and total adoration of God Almighty. He was convinced that children loved God, “Clear down to their very souls.”
Then, of course, the person slowly grows to maturity and there are several steps along the way. One added Catholic high point is the Sacrament of Confirmation at the “Age of Reason,” usually at seven to sixteen years of age. And all along the journey, we are surrounded with added “players” that shape the person we are eventually to become.
Like a great novel, the rest of our lives are seemingly full of conflicting characters, moral challenges, victories and setbacks. And all along the way we are faced with the problems of advancing age.
Perhaps Father Brendan’s greatest message was that life would be incredibly easy if we had the vibrant health and lack of pain that the average teenager experiences. BUT, that’s simply not God’s Plan.
Fr. B told me that God wants us to experience ALL of the chapters of life, just as we do a in the development of the story in a great book. In addition to all of the happiness and joy that life brings, God wants us to also feel the advancement of physical decay; the pain of our parent’s passing, incredible grief of losing a spouse and, eventually, our own personal DEATH.
All of this is a part of God’s Plan.
And, if we worship God and turn our souls totally over to Him all along our Life’s Journey, the final reward is spending Eternity with God in Heaven.
A Personal Reflection
Friends, not a single part of Father Brendan’s “Book of Life” was missed on me. Indeed, the great padre’s credo has been an integral part of my faith and deeply-Catholic lifestyle for the last fifty-some years and I will follow it until I pass from this life.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but Father Brendan had only a year or so to live after our final visit. To my eternal regret, I was deeply involved in my university studies, a young marriage and a difficult work schedule when Fr. B passed away. I was totally unaware of his death and only learned of it a couple of years ago.
Truly, Father Brendon would probably have had it no other way. He had, as he often put it, “Lived His Book of Life” and mine was “In The Middle of Chapter Four.”
I will never forget Father Brendon and his incredible ability to weave his stories inseparably with the many truths of the Catholic Church. His teachings were literally a Living Catechism … a life well-lived with an unbelievable talent for passing the Love of God to the next generation.
May God Bless Father Brendon Shea’s Lovely Soul Forever and Ever. AMEN
THE ELECTRONICS IN OUR LIVES
During my long life, I’ve witnessed an amazing growth in both the number and sophistication of the electronics in our American culture. A lot of the devices are absolutely lifesaving, some have the potential of enhancing our lives and the rest are pretty much what we make of them.
MRIs, CTs and Such
During the last two years, Karen and I have been literally plagued with health problems. In truth, the use of electronic imaging, both by MRI and CT machines, have allowed doctors to diagnose medical issues for both of us.
The beauty of this is that the docs were able to address the medical problems directly and noninvasively.
For instance, when my left knee developed a horrible “locked up” glitch and level-eight pain, a single session under an MRI machine revealed that both meniscuses were badly torn. Given this knowledge, my orthopedic performed arthroscopic microsurgery on my knee and returned it to normal function.
But, there’s more … and this is REALLY cutting edge electronic stuff.
During my pre-op appointment with the orthopedic surgeon, his assistant took two samples of my DNA. These samples were sent to a medical firm that specializes in pharmacogenomics. By studying my inherited genetics with highly sophisticated electronic gear, the technicians were able to pinpoint two things. They determined the most effective anti-inflammatory medicine and the exact dosage that would keep my operation-site swelling to an absolute minimum.
The tale of Karen’s subdural hematoma has already been told a couple of times in this blog, so we’ll not dwell on it. The fact remains that my wonderful wife’s life was literally saved by the use of a CT imaging machine, the hands of an incredibly-talented brain surgeon and microsurgical techniques involving very sophisticated electronics.
For some reason, I tend to look at most things in terms of faith. In these two instances, electronics experts and medical folks used their God-given intelligence to design pieces of equipment that can save lives. And, in the case of my badly damaged knee, the use of an MRI machine and DNA sequencing gear undoubtedly made the rest of my life on earth more enjoyable.
And Thanks Be To God For That.
Computers And The Internet
Back in our university days, Karen and I were exposed to primitive computers that used paper punch cards to input data. Yep, that was back in the Stone Age, a time when computers were a relatively new electronic invention.
Anybody who remembers stapling discarded computer punch cards into wreaths, spray painting them gold and giving them as Christmas presents … well, they are old as we are.
Obviously, computers and the Internet can be used for good or for bad (pornography comes to mind). By their use, we can enhance our souls or we can degrade ourselves and others; God gives us Free Will, so it’s totally up to us
Personally, I find the Internet to be highly useful in researching Holy Scripture and early-Church history. I also search the ‘net for things that will enhance our lives; medical stuff, managing our financial portfolio, weather information and such.
I consider the existence of computers and the Internet to be an incredible opportunity to enrich not only our lives, but the lives of others. For example, every week I spend many hours pecking away at my blog on a word processing program and posting it on the Internet.
Honestly, this blog is my personal attempt to share and increase our communal Love of God. Whether successful or unsuccessful, it’s not for me to judge … at least I try and I believe that God appreciates the fact that I throw my heart and soul into these little writings.
A Few Thoughts On Electronics
Friends, I believe that all people of faith can agree that God not only made everything in the Universe, but that He is also active in each of our lives.
God made us and He made all of the things around us. It is also true that, at some time in the future, everything will go back to God.
If we properly expand this logic, we will instantly understand that all of the electronic gadgets that surround us can be traced back to God.
After all, he gave us self-awareness, intelligence, reasoning ability and, at times, the spark of true genius. It is this “spark of true genius” that results in previously unknown concepts, services and goods … in a word, inventions.
Because of this, we should embrace the electronic devices in our lives. And, because we possess our God-given Free Will, it is our responsibility as Catholics to see that these devices are always used for good and appreciated as being Gifts from God.
If we do that, we cannot only enjoy the lifesaving and life enhancing properties of these gadgets, but we will also be able to appreciate them as being directly linked to our very best friend … God Almighty.
May God Bless You.
A LOOK AT HEAVEN
HEAVEN … the very word dredges up all sorts of mental images and thoughts. Truly, we all want to go there, but what do we really know about Heaven?
As it turns out, we know a great deal and our primary sources are the Holy Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). Indeed, the CCC is a wealth of information because it is based not only on Holy Scripture, but the writings of the early-church fathers.
Actually, there considerably more information about Heaven in the Bible that I thought possible. The New American Bible alone references Heaven 233 times in the Old Testament and 224 times in the New. The Gospel According to Matthew alone mentions the “Kingdom of Heaven” thirty-one times.
Because of this, I thought it would be interesting if we took a thoughtful look at some of the aspects of Heaven.
Who Believes In Heaven?
The Pew Research Center’s tells us a lot about who believes in Heaven and the groups of folks who do not. And, if you look at the data, it reveals that Heaven is primarily a Christian concept.
Among American Christians, fully 85% believe in Heaven. The percentage of believers varies slightly by denomination, but the fact remains that the vast majority of American Christians are secure in the knowledge that Heaven and spending Eternity in the Presence of God awaits them upon physical death.
The statistic that absolutely floored me was that a whopping 72% of ALL AMERICANS, regardless of religious affiliation or non-affiliation, reported having a belief in the existence of Heaven. Pew defined Heaven as a place “where people who have led good lives are eternally rewarded.”
I was personally surprised to see that one-half (50%) of Americans who reported that they believed in “Nothing in particular” had confidence that Heaven actually exists.
On the other side of the equation, the majority of Jews, Hindus and Buddhists totally reject any notion of Heaven.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church
So what is Heaven and what is it like to be there? Let’s take a look at what the Catechism of the Catholic Churchtells us.
CCC-1023 - Those who die in God's grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live forever with Christ. They are like God forever, for they "see Him as he is," face to face. ( 1 John 3:2, 1 Corinthians 13:12 and Revelation 22:4).
CCC-1024 - This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity - this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed - is called "heaven." Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.
CCC-1025 To live in heaven is "to be with Christ." The elect live "in Christ," but they retain, or rather find, their true identity, their own name. (Philippians 1:23, John 14:3, 1 Thessalonians 4:17 and Revelation 2:17).
Heaven In The Holy Bible
The Holy Bible reveals a lot about not only Heaven, but of the incredible Love that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit feels for us. Here are several bullet points from Scripture.
Jesus Christ shows his personal Love for us in John 14:2-3: "There are many homes up there where my Father lives, and I am going to prepare them for your coming. When everything is ready, then I will come and get you, so that you can always be with me where I am."
Heaven is beyond our comprehension; I Corinthians 2:9 tells us: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him."
Perhaps the most incredible descriptions of Heaven is one that Karen and I have read during Requiem Masses for friends of ours who have passed on to Our Lord. In Revelation 21:3-4, we are told that God will live with His people and there will be an end to death, crying, and pain. Here is the quote:
“I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be His people and God Himself will always be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes and there will be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.”
Will There Be Marriage In Heaven?
The Holy Bible tells us, “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in Heaven (Matthew 22:30). This was Jesus’ answer in response to a question concerning a woman who had been married multiple times in her life and which man would be her husband in Heaven (Matthew 22:23-28). Evidently there is no such thing as marriage in Heaven.
This does NOT mean that a husband and wife will no longer know each other in Heaven. Also, it does NOT mean that the couple couldn’t still have a close relationship with each other in Heaven. Indeed, they will still love each other totally.
What this basically tells us, however, is that marriage in Heaven would have no purpose, since there is no procreation and no loneliness.
A Short Reflection On Heaven
Friends, the subject of Heaven and the biblical references to it could easily fill ten books … and I only have about one-thousand words to spend on each of my blogs. Trust me, this is a rich and beautiful subject.
So, let’s sum up what little I’ve covered here: The majority of Americans, whether Christian or not, believe in Heaven. And it is a place, a place called Heaven, where those who have died in God's grace and friendship will live for all Eternity in the Presence and Love of God.
Biblical sources, ones I have not cited, mention that when we pass the Final Judgment, we will be living forever in our “glorified body.” It is only then that we will be truly capable of appreciating the incredible wonders of Heaven.
In other words, our poor human senses are inadequate, but in time and with God’s help, we will be able to immerse ourselves in an existence that is light-years beyond our present comprehension.
And, finally, Heaven will be a place where all of our souls, now clad in our wonderful glorified bodies, will live for all Eternity in the Presence of God.
May God Bless You.
FROM MY YUKON JOURNAL
Friends, the following is an excerpt from my Yukon Journal. The year was 1978 and at the time, my guide, Rudy, and I were in the Yukon wilderness, above the Arctic Circle, hunting Dall sheep in the Selwyn Mountains.
…. We’d found no game on the west side of the river, so we resupplied at our tiny base camp and got ready for our last great mountain adventure. It was late in the hunt, perhaps the sixteenth or seventeenth day, and time was growing very short.
The following day, we stripped off our clothing and crossed the many channels of Snake River. It was a risky crossing; boots, clothing, packs and guns held over our heads as we slowly traversed the swift, frigid water of the Snake. The water was so cold that we lost all of the feeling in our feet and legs in the first thirty seconds.
The river water was straight off of the glaciers and, about halfway across, I stepped on a huge fish. I could easily have drowned right there had I not been able to grab a log that was buried in the river gravel.
By the time we both reached the opposite bank, we were nearly frozen to death. We were still naked as we rapidly built a huge fire and we reveled in the flames warming our bodies.
Then, we climbed. Oh how we climbed; up and up the mountain range to the east. And, after maybe eight or ten hours of the worst sort of rock scrambling imaginable we reached the top. Our fingernails were bleeding, as were our knees and elbows but, by God’s Grace, we’d reached the Top of the World.
Rudy and I sat on the highest part of the ridge and looked at God’s Creation.
It was an incredibly clear day and we could see forever. To the south, Snake River cut its serpentine course towards us. The river disappeared to the north, eventually dumping into the Beaufort Sea.
To our east, the gorgeous untracked country continued. Within our vista were enormous mountains, frozen lakes and deep creeks that will go forever unnamed.
It was the arctic wilderness, unsullied by man and inhabited only by wild beasts. And Rudy and I were entranced by it; two brothers looking at all of Creation that truly matters.
And God was there, our Forever Companion.
Rudy was one for calling God “The Great Whoever.” I understood that he was referring to the loving entity that the Inuits call “He who made all.” Hey, whatever name you call God, He’s still God.
For a long time, Rudy and I sat quietly, alone in our individual thoughts. Rudy was communing with The Great Whoever and I was contemplating God and the natural order of things … life, death, eternal salvation; stuff like that.
My Personal Ecclesiastes 3 On A Yukon Mountaintop
My father’s recent death showed me, in a very visible way, that our time on earth is limited. In truth, Dad’s passing caused me to come to the total acceptance of physical death.
We’re born, we grow and thrive, we love and laugh and we enjoy this life that God gives us … then, it’s time for us to slow down, to grow old, to be ill and to die. That is just the order of things. And, after this process has been completed, my Catholic faith tells me that our souls (now clad in a glorified body) spend All of Eternity in the Loving Presence of God Almighty.
Then, it stuck me that I didn’t know Ecclesiastes 3 by heart, but that by making up my own, using the same principle, I could somehow understand a little more about the cycle of our life on earth.
I sat on that distant Yukon mountaintop, quietly saying something like this:
To everything there is a season.
A time to be born, a time to live,
a time to grow, a time to thrive,
a time to grow old and a time to die.
And, at ALL TIMES we should LOVE,
both one another and Our God.
Hey, maybe it ain’t Old Testament prose, but it was the best I could do while on the edge of exhaustion and hypothermia at a wind-chill of close to zero degrees.
After spending a little more time on the Top of the World, it was time to descend. At the end of our stay, Rudy said, “Always remember this moment, my friend. Very few people ever climb mountains like these and even fewer will ever see the things like you and I have seen together.”
I remember those words as if they were spoken yesterday. And Rudy was right, of course.
Being allowed to experience God in the Yukon arctic; seeing reflections of Him in the aurora borealis and seeing His Grandeur in the mountains … these are rare privileges that I will cherish forever.
May God Bless You,
The Urban Dictionary defines the word “Takeaway” thusly: “Takeaway: Noun. Any new piece of information gleaned from a lecture, interview, or other media presentation, etc. that can be of exponential value when acted upon or put to use.”
The Takeaway Concept On Pilgrimages
Karen and I have been fortunate enough to have shared several Catholic faith pilgrimages together. Having literally “been there and done that,” I can vouch for the fact that it’s incredibly easy to quickly become “basilica blind.”
For instance, the first church in the morning is in sharp focus, but our minds tend to get a bit fuzzy after lunch, when we we’re walking through the third or fourth cathedral of the day.
My friend, Mike Aquilina, was a guest speaker on our first pilgrimage. When I described our “basilica blindness,” Mike gave me a sage piece of advice. Mike told me, “Steve, whenever I visit major holy site, the first thing I do is to use my physical senses to immerse myself into the experience.”
Mike continued, “Then, while I’m still on-site, I try to expand my experience by finding at least one ‘takeaway,’ something totally unique about the place or the event.”
And, finally, he told me, “Steve, trust me on this, the book learnin’ is best left until later. The two most important parts of pilgrimages are the experiences of our senses and the takeaways.”
During our time at Christ the King Catholic Church, we have been blessed to have had two pastors who consistently delivered excellent homilies. I don’t know of a single soul who would disagree with the statement that both Monsignor Don Buxman and Monsignor Rick Paperini are world-class homilists.
No matter how great a homily is, however, it’s easy to drift into a mental malaise while listening to someone talk. Actively seeking the takeaway helps me to enjoy the entire homily and to find a message that is relevant to my life.
Takeaways In Sacred Reading
Likewise, when reading the Holy Bible or other divine works, it really helps to keep on the alert for the takeaway. Words tend to melt into one another and consciously searching for the kernel of wisdom is the very essence of the takeaway principle.
A Short Reflection
My friends, it isn’t just in basilicas or homilies or in reading the Bible that we find those blessed takeaways. In truth, our lives are full of takeaway moments; we simply have to be aware of them.
Personally, I see God and His Love in every gorgeous sunset, when looking at a particularly beautiful flower and in the smile of my beloved wife of fifty-two years.
Indeed, God is the Ultimate Takeaway.
May God Bless You,
THE RAT IN THE GARBAGE CAN
Many years ago, I was working in our side yard, when Margie, our next-door neighbor lady, called me over to the fence. The conversation was what one might expect between a city dweller (she) and a Montana farm boy (me) … In other words, neither of us saw the other person’s point of view.
The discussion went something like this:
Margie: “Steve, a HUGE rat was evidently walking down the fence and it fell into our empty garbage can.”
Me: “No problem; kill it.”
Margie: “Oh Dear, I couldn’t possibly kill anything, not even a nasty ol’ rat.”
Me: “Fine, then turn the critter loose.”
Margie: “Oh my goodness, I couldn’t do that. We surely do not want a HUGE wild rat running loose around our home.”
Me: “So what are you going to do?”
Margie: “Well, tomorrow is garbage day and we need the can for our trash. I was hoping that you could dispose of the rat for us.”
So, I peered into the waste container. Our neighbor lady wasn’t kidding, the rat was a big one and he was contentedly eating the food that she had put out. Again, there was a clash between city-folk rationale and the way that a farm boy reasons.
In Margie’s mind, she had a rat living in her garbage can and she felt that it was her duty to feed it. On the other hand, she couldn’t kill the rat, nor did she want it living near her home. The conundrum must have been incredibly challenging.
In my country-boy mind, there was a simple and easy solution: kill the rat and get rid of the problem. So, that’s what I did.
During the last forty-odd years, I’ve revisited that conversation and our neighbor’s seemingly-unsolvable dilemma many times. Frankly, the memory is always good for a great belly laugh, but it also stands out as a lesson about how darned silly we humans can be.
A Reflection on Confession, Mortal Sins and Rats
Friends, it seems to me that our venal and mortal sins, the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the “rat in the garbage can” are all very much related. Let me explain:
We are all sinners and, try as hard as we might, we still commit both venal and mortal sins. Venal (small) sins have a way of accumulating and mortal sins are quite deadly. In truth, we need to free ourselves from both types of sins as expeditiously as possible.
BUT, there’s a hang-up: Most of us are ashamed of our sins, so we tend to hide them in our “Mind’s Secret Place.” And, quite honestly, that makes about as much sense as keeping a large wharf rat alive and fed in a garbage can.
Clearly, the nastiness needs to be killed and disposed of, so that we can get on with the business of working our Way to Heaven. This situation presents a wonderful case for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
When we go to Confession, we open up our “Mind’s Secret Place” and let the priest know that we are truly repentant for our sins. The priest helps us look directly at our transgressions against God and, ministering “in the person of Christ” (in persona Christi), he absolves us. It’s as simple as that; Jesus Christ forgives us our sins when we exercise the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
In a very real way, Jesus kills our sins … the “rats” in the trash bins of our souls. And Thanks Be To God for that !!!
May God Bless You.
AT MASS TODAY
Today’s daily Mass was wonderful … OK, the Holy Mass is ALWAYS wonderful; perhaps I was just a little more receptive today.
The readings were incredible, the homily was excellent and then it was time for the Eucharist. The especial time … The Body of Christ.
As always, I received the Lamb of God upon my tongue and walked slowly back to my pew, my hands in a prayerful position. As I entered my pew, I noticed a lady getting her slender pre-teen daughter ready to walk down the communion line.
It was obvious that the lady was timing their entry so that they would be at the very end of the line. Kneeling communicants, those who receive the Lamb of God in the traditional way, commonly do this. It saves time, not that anyone is in a hurry.
Both the mother and her daughter were wearing chapel veils, something we seldom see today. I love the old ways and I wish that the popularity of chapel veils and mantillas would return.
When the two approached the priest, they both knelt side-by-side, faces upturned. The priest said, "The Body of Christ." The daughter audibly, and with great feeling, said "Amen" and he carefully placed the Lamb of God upon the girl's tongue.
Both still kneeling, the priest said, "The Body of Christ; the mother said "Amen" and he gently put the Lamb of God upon her tongue, as well. Then, all three Crossed themselves unhurriedly.
Next, the lady and her daughter got up very slowly, Crossed themselves again while looking at the Crucifix behind the altar and turned down the side aisle.
As the two walked by my pew, I looked at the girl’s face. She had seen Heaven when she’d received the Lamb upon her tongue. So innocent, so loving, so in love with Our Precious Lord.
My mind rang out, “Child of God … Child of God. No doubt about it, this is truly a CHILD OF GOD.”
It was one of those experiences that is impossible to describe. It is also one of those singular moments in time that I'll never forget.
And that is why I thought I’d share these reflections of today’s Holy Mass with you.
May God Bless You,
WHO IN THE HECK WAS PETER?
Obviously, The Apostle Peter played a significant role in the Gospels. He was the first Disciple chosen and he basically inherited the leadership of the fledgling Catholic Church from Jesus Christ.
There is absolutely no doubt that Peter is a fascinating character, but I believe that it is necessary to go OUTSIDE of the Holy Bible to gain a more complete picture of the man … the man named Simon that Jesus Christ renamed “Peter.”
Peter In Capernaum
The ruins of the ancient fishing town of Capernaum were discovered in 1836, but political considerations prevented its archaeological excavation for seventy years. The Franciscans were eventually able to secure the site and the dig was active, on a start-and-stop basis, from 1906 until 1986.
In the 1960s, a glass-floored Catholic church was built, and suspended, directly above Saint Peter’s home in Capernum.
I must comment that it’s an amazing experience to celebrate the Holy Mass and, at the same time, look down through the glass floor and see Peter’s home.
Karen and I spent an entire afternoon in Capernaum and our guide, Amer, pointed out several incredible things about Peter.
Interestingly, Peter’s home was built within one-hundred feet of Capernaum’s synagogue. By local custom, Peter was undoubtedly very well respected by the Temple Jews; otherwise, they would not have allowed him live in a home so close to the synagogue.
Peter’s home was also by far the largest in Capernaum. The Franciscan social-archaeologists agree that the size of Peter’s home indicates that he was financially successful.
We could assume his extended family lived in the home with him. Jesus visited the home and cured Peter’s mother-in-law of the fever (Matthew 8:14, Mark 1:29-31 and Luke 4:38-39). Further, it only makes sense to assume that if Peter had a mother-in-law, he also either had a wife or he was a widower. Also, there would most likely have been children from that union and they would be living in the home.
Luke 5:10 tells us this: “James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon (Peter), "Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men." So, from this, we know that Simon-Peter had partners in his fishing enterprise.
Indeed, these revelations have personally caused me to think a little differently about Peter. He was financially successful, he was a fisherman who worked with partners and he was likely at least part owner of several fishing boats. Peter also lived with his extended family and he was a devout, observant member of the Jewish Temple community in Capernaum.
In every possible way, Simon-Peter was a prime candidate to become one of Our Lord‘s Disciples and, ultimately, the Prince of the Apostles .
Peter’s Home In Capernaum
Let’s take a peek at the transformation of Peter’s home after he left Palestine for Rome.
Archaeologists believe that at some time in the mid-1st century, Peter’s home was converted into a church for use by very early Christian worshipers. This seems highly likely; after all, both Peter and Jesus Christ lived in the house and, according to the Gospels, a number of Jesus’ miracles took place either in or quite near Peter‘s home.
During the 4th century, Peter’s home was enclosed by four high walls that measured 88-feet per side. The new walls were covered with colored plaster and an atrium was added at the entrance. It is unclear whether the structure, rightly called a precinct, had a roof or not. Local tradition has it that Saint Helena commissioned the building of the walls and the enhancement of the existing church.
Egeria, a nun from Galicia, visited Capernaum at some time between AD 382 and 384 and she gives us one of the earliest testimonies of a Christian pilgrim visiting the Holy Land. Egeria described the original “Black Synagogue” and the fact that Peter’s home had become a Christian church.
The entry in Egeria’s Journal beautifully sums up what she saw: “And in Capernaum, what is more, the house of the Prince of the Apostles (Saint Peter) has been transformed into a church, with its original walls still standing. Here the Lord healed the paralytic. There is also the synagogue where the Lord healed the man possessed by demons; one goes up many steps to this synagogue which was built with square stones.”
On The Road To Rome
Theories vary as to what Peter did between the time he left Palestine and the time he arrived in Rome. Some experts believe he was the Bishop of Antioch for a spell … and others totally deny the possibility.
There is no mention of Peter in the New Testament after the Incident at Antioch (Galatians 2:11-14) and the Council in Jerusalem (Acts 15).
Both of these “discussions” centered around the Laws of Moses and whether or not male Gentiles entering the Church should be circumcised. Peter’s argument was that the Gentiles should adhere to the Law and Paul argued that it was enough to exchange circumcision for Baptism. Eventually, Peter saw the wisdom of Paul’s point of view and he capitulated.
After that point in time, Peter apparently traveled to the Capitol of the Roman Empire … Rome.
Peter In Rome
There is an ancient tradition that Peter arrived in Rome around the year AD 50 or 51. Among his earliest converts was the entire Pudens family. Quintus Cornelius Pudens was a Roman Senator (mentioned in 2Timothy 4:21) and his wife, Priscilla, was a member of the powerful Glabrio family . The Pudens had two virgin daughters, Pudenziana and Praxedes (their story is amazing) and a son by the name of Tomoco.
The tradition goes on to relate that Pudens provided living quarters for Peter in his palatial villa on Viminal Hill. Eventually, Senator Pudens allowed Peter to use his home as a domus ecclesiae (house church) and as the center for Christian activity in Rome. Of course, being a Christian was a serious offense at the time, so all activities were held secretly to avoid the attention of the Roman authorities.
The Pudens house church was very likely the site where Peter baptized his immediate successors as Bishops of Rome: Linus Cletus and Clement.
Apparently, Peter lived in the Villa Pudens for most of the remainder of his life. His activities included the conversion of many new Christians, performing the Sacraments and daily celebration of the Holy Mass.
Peter, the first Bishop of Rome, the Vicar of Christ, was briefly imprisoned and, in about the year AD 66, he was crucified in the Circus of Nero on Vatican Hill. Tradition has it that Saint Peter requested to be crucified upside-down because he did not consider himself worthy of going to death in the same position that Our Lord did.
As an aside, Karen and I have celebrated the Holy Mass in the Basilica of Saint Pudenziana, the tiny church that was built over the Pudens’ home in AD 140. A larger three-apse church building was added to the original structure in the 3rd-century. When we were there, we could literally feel the warmth, peace and holiness of that blessed place.
The Basilica of Santa Pudenziana, was both the Pope’s residence and the official church for the Bishop of Rome until the year AD 313. After that date, the newly-built Basilica of Saint John Lateran became the Pope’s church.
So, Who In The Heck Was Peter?
Back to our original question … Who in the heck was Peter?
Peter was much more than a simple, bumbling fisherman. He was a strong leader of men and he was financially successful in the secular world. However, Peter simply walked away from everything he knew when Jesus Christ said, “Come, follow me, and I’ll make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). The fact that he did this shows enormous strength of character and an ability to make a perfect snap decision.
There is a facet of Peter’s personality that is often missed; there were times that he showed remarkably good judgement. An example of this is his deferring to Saint Paul after their argument during the Incident At Antioch. A lesser man would have let his pride stand in the way of doing the right thing. Peter’s acquiescing to Paul made the Church much more accessible to the Gentiles.
Truly, Peter was a character with whom every one of us can relate. … he was human to a fault. Like all of us, there were times when Peter was incredibly afraid. Indeed, sometimes Peter made mistakes and he was saddened by them. Peter was also fearless when he needed to be.
And, most of all, Peter loved Our Lord more than anything else in the entire Universe.
May God Bless You
OUR NEW NATIVITY SET
Late last winter, our really good buddy, Linda, sent an e-mail to a group of her friends. The e-mail read something like this, “We’ve bought a brand-new outdoor nativity set at Costco and we need to make room. Would anybody like to have our old Costco set?”
Karen, had always wanted a Costco nativity set, so she instantly e-mailed back, “Yes, please; Steve and I would love to have your old set. Many thanks.”
Linda must have been lurking on the Internet because she e-mailed back within a few minutes, “My friends, Steve and Karen, our old Costco nativity set is yours. It needs a bit of repair, but I’m sure you guys can do that.”
Our old crèche was one of those classy blow-up ones; we bought it on sale for ten bucks and it was a veteran of many blessed Christmases at our home. Our balloon nativity set was pretty neat, but it was truly on its last legs.
So, the new one was entering our lives at precisely the right time. It’s strange how that happens.
Our New Nativity Set
It was only a few days later that Matt and Linda delivered their old Costco nativity scene. It was raining at the time, so the four of us pitched in and carried the fiberglass statues to our covered back deck.
When the figures were put together as a group, they made a very impressive set. There were Mary, Joseph, three Wise Men, an Angel and, of course, the Baby Jesus in a highly detailed manger. I remember thinking, “That’s really COOL.”
And it truly was.
After many thanks and hugs, Matt and Linda left and it was then that I started to look at the repairs that would be needed.
There were major repairs had to be made to the figures of Mary and Joseph. Mary had a hole in the back of her cape that was about the size of four baseballs and Joseph’s right arm was separated and holding on by a thread. The Angel had some breaks in the fiberglass, but nothing serious, and the three Wise Men were in darned good condition. The Baby Jesus and the Manger were perfect.
They arrived in late-winter and the rain storms simply kept coming, so I put the nativity set in a covered space between our home and a large shed. My plan was to deal with the repairs after the rainy season ended.
It was early-summer when I started the working on the nativity statues. Mary was the one that was going to need the most attention, so I dealt with her first.
The hole in Mary’s backside was a bit of a daunting project because I had to recreate a large area in the folds of her outer garment. I’m a retired watchmaker and goldsmith, so I worked on the statue in the only way I know how; small, perfect increments. Frankly, it took many hours and a lot of artsy fiberglass cloth and resin work, but the results were fabulous.
The fiberglass and resin work on the figure of Saint Joseph was relatively straight forward. It took about ten applications of cloth and resin to get Joseph’s right arm in perfect condition.
“Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground”
About two weeks ago, I got around to the repairing the multiple cracks in the Angel statue and it ended up being a horrible disaster. During the first step, a complete cleaning of the figure, the Angel came crashing to the concrete of our trailer pad.
The Angel quite literally broke into a thousand pieces.
As I looked at our totally smashed Angel, I thought, “Now, that is the end of this one … there is simply no repair. Oh well, I guess we can have an outdoor nativity set without an Angel.”
Karen happened to be in the shower at the time, so I left the carnage in place and went to tell her about the mishap. I was singing Willy Nelson’s country-western song, “Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground” as I told her and I’m not sure if Karen saw the humor in the event.
Karen really loves Angels and she thought that this particular Angel statue was especially beautiful. Even more, my bride of fifty-two years was convinced that the Angel was the perfect complement to Our Blessed Mother, Saint Joseph and the Baby Jesus.
Later, when Karen looked at the broken statue, zillions of pieces and all, she opined that we could Super-Glue it back together again. (Why do these things always include the word “WE”?) I had visions of Humpty Dumpty and attempting to solve the world’s most complicated jigsaw puzzle.
Surprisingly, or maybe not so, Karen was absolutely correct. After we spent tons of hours of fitting small pieces together and many tubes of Super-Glue, the Angel statue approached a fixable status.
At this point in time, I’m almost totally done with the fiberglass cloth/resin work and it’s coming along fabulously. Honestly, the Angel is turning out to be fully as perfect as the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The Angel is the last piece. All of the rest of the Costco outdoor nativity set figures have been carefully repaired (where needed) and have received umpteen coats of an ivory-colored outdoor enamel. And, except for the Angel, they are safely under a clean tarp and fully protected in the covered walkway between our home and shed.
We’re almost ready for CHRISTMAS.
Friends, it’s pretty obvious that the nativity set is a physical representation of the Holy Family. And ours even has an Angel … literally, the source of the Annunciation; the announcement of the Incarnation by the Archangel Gabriel to Mary. (Luke 1:26–38)
In spending time working with each and every one of the statues, I’ve had many opportunities to ponder the relationship between each of the characters in the Miracle of the Nativity of Our Lord. It was almost like our friend, Linda, was teaching me another wonderful Bible lesson, except that the examples were physical, rather than mere words.
Beyond that, it was a pleasure repairing the figures of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph … after all, they are our Spiritual Mother and Father and paying them back, if only a tiny bit, was the least I could do.
There is one last statue I must comment on. The “Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground” has become very special to both Karen and me. We literally took a box full of fiberglass shards and fitted enough of the puzzle together that I could finish it with fiberglass cloth and resin. Indeed, forming an Angel out of the ruins has been totally a labor of love.
In many ways, doing a little bit of “sweat equity” on Matt and Linda’s old nativity set has made it quite literally OURS. Truthfully, given the choice between using our refurbished crèche or a brand-new one from Costco, we’d definitely choose the set we so lovingly repaired.
My friends, come Christmastime, please stop by and see our lights (Karen is big into that) and, especially, our outdoor nativity set … guaranteed, I believe you’ll love the display.
May God Bless You
PILGRIMAGE … the very word brings all sorts of wonderful things to mind. Just so we’re all on the same page, let’s define the term “pilgrimage” and explore the concept a bit.
I believe that the Merriam-Webster Dictionary says it best in defining a pilgrimage as simply “A journey to a holy place.” At first look, the M-W definition seems weak, but that is precisely what a pilgrimage is; it’s a journey to a holy place.
Also, please note that the Merriam-Webster Dictionary didn’t put any distance or time restrictions on the term. According to that excellent definition, whether the pilgrim travels one-mile or ten-thousand miles, or one-minute or one-year, to “a holy place,” it’s a pilgrimage.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us this in CCC-2691, “Pilgrimages evoke our earthly journey toward Heaven and are traditionally very special occasions for renewal in prayer.”
Please note that, like the M-W Dictionary, the CCC stresses that the pilgrimage is a journey made in the interest of holiness.
Pilgrimages Are Very CATHOLIC
The religious pilgrimage is almost entirely a Catholic concept. I guess we come by this naturally because from the times of the very-early Church, Catholics have been making pilgrimages to the Holy Land and other holy sites.
There were undoubtedly earlier pilgrims to the Holy Land, but the earliest recorded visit was that of the anonymous Pilgrim of Bordeaux in AD 333. Roughly fifty years later, a much more complete journal, Egeria’s Travels, was kept by Egeria, a nun from the Roman province of Galicia (far northwestern Spain).
As a side note, if you want to read an account of an early pilgrimage, I highly recommend Egeria’s Travels. Every single word is fascinating, but the best part is the eyewitness account of Holy Week and Easter in Jerusalem in AD 384. The ISBN is 0-85668-710-3.
Indeed, Saint Jerome, the translator of the Vulgate Bible and his incredible co-translators, Saint Paula of Rome and her daughter, Saint Eustochium, were essentially Catholic pilgrims. Jerome was from the town of Štrigova(now in modern-day Croatia) and both Paula and Eustochium were born in Rome. All three eventually settled in Palestine. Many do not know it, but the Vulgate Bible was translated in a cave below the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
After the 4th century, the floodgates opened and the number of Catholic pilgrims increased a thousand-fold. The literature of the Catholic Church is enriched by the journals of many pilgrims … the written works of Eucherius, Theodorsius, Cosmas Indicopleustes, the Placenza Pilgrim and many others speak to us through the ages.
Interestingly, our Protestant brethren apparently do not share our interest in pilgrimages. Personally, I do not comprehend why this is so; after all, we can only understand our faith when we better understand our roots.
Pilgrimages Near and Far
Those of us who live in the Portland area are incredibly blessed to have the National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother close by. Known locally as “The Grotto,” this sanctuary is an amazingly quiet and holy place. Indeed, if a Catholic wants to simply get in touch with God and immerse himself in prayer, The Grotto is a wonderful place to do it.
During my fifty years of big game hunting, many of my trips into the bush had definite spiritual aspects to them. Praying the Holy Rosary under the Southern Cross in South Africa’s Northern Transvaal instantly comes to mind. And lying on my back above the Arctic Circle, watching God’s Miracle of the Northern lights is another. Indeed, the world’s most wild places are incredible Cathedrals of God.
To most Catholics, the term “pilgrimage” means a journey to a distant holy place. Rome, Assisi, Fatima and Santiago de Compostela are excellent examples of Catholic pilgrimage destinations. It has been Karen’s and my great privilege to have visited all of these sites and our faith and connection with God was strengthened by each.
The pilgrimage that affected Karen and me the most was our journey to The Holy Land. Indeed, when we traveled to Israel we got an brand-new perspective on the place where Jesus lived, walked, taught, was Crucified and was Resurrected. And celebrating the Holy Mass in front of His Tomb, in the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulchre, increased our faith immeasurably.
One Last Pilgrimage
Karen and I will be taking a religious pilgrimage in the late-Spring of next year. This will be our fifth, and very likely our last, trip to some of the holiest places in all of Christendom.
During this pilgrimage, we’ll be visiting Lisbon, Santarem (Eucharist Miracle), Fatima (Angelic and Marian Apparitions), Santiago de Compostela (the relics of Saint James the Greater are enshrined there), Madrid, Saint Ignatius of Layola’s home castle, Lourdes (Marian Apparition and healing waters), Monserrat (Black Madonna) and Barcelona … plus innumerable very special stops along the way.
Thank goodness the Director of OCP Pilgrimages, Carol Stahl (1-800-LITURGY), scheduled a full fourteen days for our pilgrimage. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have time for individual prayer and contemplation at the holy sites that we’ll be visiting
This will be a great pilgrimage, made even more wonderful because it’s being led by our pastor at Christ the King Catholic Church, Monsignor Rick Paperini. Indeed, sharing the pilgrimage with our personal Catholic spiritual guide will be very special.
A Few Thoughts
Friends, it’s been my experience that a pilgrimage is less about recreation of the body and more about re-creation of the mind, spirit and soul. It is about immersing ourselves into the godliness of a holy place.
Literally, every time we’ve gone on a pilgrimage to a foreign land, Karen and I have returned physically exhausted, but spiritually renewed. That’s just the nature of pilgrimages.
I find it very sad that we are about at the end of our “pilgrimage days.” Frankly, we are getting older and more fragile and the looooong air flights in the ever-shrinking airline seats absolutely kill both of us.
Having said that, we are incredibly thankful that God has allowed us the privilege of enjoying several pilgrimages. Each and every one has been special in its own way and we have no doubt that our upcoming pilgrimage to Portugal, Spain and France will be the finest one of all.
May God Bless You
KNEE SURGERY & GOD INCIDENCES
WOW, fascinating subject, huh? … the sawbones whacked on the old duffer’s knee. Well, actually, it is VERY interesting, considering the number of God-Incidences involved.
Let’s start at the beginning.
Horse Wrecks and Elk Rodeos
God blessed me with an incredibly strong body and I’ve used the heck out of it. My life journey has been an active one with lots of time spent hunting and exploring some of the World’s most remote wilderness areas.
But, accidents happen and, in the course of my life, I’ve been involved in several horse wrecks and a couple of elk rodeos. Such activities are hard on a person’s body and, as the saying goes, “Eventually, you have to pay the fiddler.”
My left knee was my first instance of truly “paying the fiddler.” Apparently, an elk rodeo several years ago, one where my left leg ended up twisted like a pretzel under a seven-hundred pound bull elk, was the cause of my eventual knee problem.
A Life-Changing Event
About the first of May of this year I stepped off of our back deck and felt an incredible pain in my left knee. Judged from zero to ten, like the little chart the docs show you, the pain was a solid 9 and it didn’t go away.
I remember thinking at the time, “Whoa, this is going to be a life-changing event.” And it was.
So, being a typically macho dude, I started using a cane and hobbled around for a few months, thinking all the while that I didn’t need to consult a doctor. After all, I’m a tough guy and it would go away … Right? Wrong!
Seeing the Doc(s)
In May, Karen had an appointment with our family physician, so I joined her when she saw the doc. I had one question, “Do you know a good orthopedic surgeon who can fix my knee?” And, after some thought and consulting, Dr. Ruggeri came up with an orthopedic that both came highly recommended and would satisfy the needs of our Blue Cross/Blue Shield Medicare Advantage plan.
So, we called the orthopedic’s office. They’d just had a cancellation and rather than waiting for three weeks for an appointment, Dr. Estes could see me two days later. That’s God-Incidence Number One
It turned out that Dr. Estes was a hip-replacement specialist, but he saw that I had a severe knee problem and he opined that it was probably a torn meniscus cartilage. He highly recommended that I see another orthopedist in his group, a Dr. Tella, who is a master of repairing meniscus tears.
On the way out of the office, we stopped at the reception desk and made an appointment to see Dr. Tella. Interestingly, instead of waiting for three weeks to see Dr. Tella, there had just been an appointment cancellation and I could see him later that week. So, we made the appointment. That’s God-Incidence Number Two.
When Dr. Tella examined me, he patiently explained that the knee has two large C-shaped shock absorbing cartilages that are each called “meniscus.” The position and intensity of my knee pain indicated that I most likely had a torn meniscus. He added that the simple step off of our back deck was not the cause of the tear; it was simply the “straw that broke the camel’s back.” The good doctor went on to say that a CT scan would complete the diagnosis, but he was fairly sure that at least one of my meniscuses was torn.
From that point in time, we treated the appointment as a “pre-op” because my left knee almost surely would need arthroscopic surgery. When asked if I was open to surgery, I answered, “Heck YES … Can we do it tomorrow morning?” Everybody laughed, but I was serious.
Towards the end of the appointment, Dr. Tella’s assistant, Angela, left the examining room to arrange the CT and surgery date. When Angela returned, she had a big smile on her face and she told us that something totally unprecedented had happened.
Angela said that Dr. Tella was booked solid for surgery and that there was an eight-week waiting list. BUT, while she was working on the CT stuff, the office had a cancellation on an upcoming surgery.
It seems that a lady patient of theirs was booked for much-needed knee surgery. The lady had two children that she’d adopted from Uganda and she was on the list to adopt a baby someday. Apparently, she’d gotten a call that morning; her baby had been born and was ready for her to pick up.
The lady decided that her knee surgery could wait and the baby couldn’t. Because of this, she canceled her surgery and was flying out on the next airplane to Kampala, Uganda.
After telling us the story, Angela asked us, “Would next Thursday, eight days from now, be OK for your arthroscopic knee surgery?”
We answered, “Absolutely, but can we get the authorization from Blue Cross and the CT scan done by then?” Angela assured us that the office would do everything possible to streamline the entire process.
Getting the canceled appointment and canceled surgery slot … what are your chances? Without a doubt, those two things are surely God-Incidence Number Three and Number Four.
As we drove home, I mentioned to Karen, “Wasn’t that just the most amazing series of events?” She agreed that it was; we walked in (actually, I hobbled on my cane) for a meet-and-greet and walked out scheduled for arthroscopic knee surgery. Incredible!
The next week was a total whirlwind of events. I got my CT on Monday and it showed that the rear “horns” of both meniscuses were torn. On Tuesday, I got blood/lab work done and had a lengthy meeting with the Surgery Admitting Nurse. On Wednesday, Monsignor Rick gave me a private Anointing of the Sick before the altar at Christ the King Catholic Church.
Great, everything was in readiness.
The Arthroscopic Surgery and Recovery
The actual surgery was anticlimactic. We arrived at Adventist Hospital early in the morning. The surgery team was ahead of schedule, so I was quickly prepped and in the operating room by nine o’clock
Linda Mainard and Kris Stauffer kept Karen company while I was in surgery. It was a great comfort to me, knowing that Karen had the support and love of our very good friends.
When I woke up, we waited for the effects of the anesthesia to wear off and then a physical therapist gave me a few pointers on how to manage a walker and how to use crutches. We were home shortly before four o’clock in the afternoon.
I’d been warned that the pain was going to be pretty awful for the first two days; and it was. Having said that, I quickly graduated from a walker to a cane and was walking unaided by the third day. On the fourth day, my knee was relatively painless, so I walked slooooowly around our suburban block … a little under a half-mile.
My first post-op appointment was two weeks after surgery. Dr. Tella was frankly surprised that I was walking fair distances and that my knee joint was essentially pain-free. His parting comment was, “Steve, this is the kind of success that surgeons love … keep it up.”
The second post-op appointment was at the six-week point and Dr. Tella was delighted that I was walking without pain and easily walking a hilly one-mile course every single day. He told me that my recovery was excellent and that physical therapy was not needed. At that point in time, I was basically released.
Today, a little over two months after my surgery, I am walking a good distance every day and I make it a point NOT to avoid stairs. My knee is pain-free and, other than a bit of swelling and a slight stiffness, it’s as good as new.
ABOUT ALL THOSE CANCELLATIONS
At the end of my last post-op examination, I stopped at the front desk to visit for a minute with the receptionist. During a short conversation, I asked the head receptionist, Norene, about the series of cancellations I’d experienced.
Norene told me, “Steve, we very seldom have a cancellation on an office call and absolutely nobody ever cancels a surgery date. You were totally BLESSED … and that’s the only word for it!”
I told Norene, “We Catholics call such things ‘God-Incidences.’” God is always in control and it is simply for us to follow.”
Friends, I’ve learned a lot in the last several months. Being crippled, having to use a cane (often two canes) and dealing with incredible pain taught me the wisdom and peace that comes from “offering it up to God.” It ain’t easy, but joining in prayer with God surely eases the pain.
At the time, I didn’t know if my bum knee was a permanent thing; a “new normal,” if you will, so I simply accepted it. Life is a journey of many chapters and I treated my crippling as humbly as I possibly could. I appreciated little things more, like the flowers in our back yard and the many hummingbirds that drop by for a while.
When it came time to see an orthopedic surgeon, the God-Incidences started happening and they were too numerous to be mere happenstance. Cancellation after cancellation happened and the lady flying off to Uganda to claim her baby was simply off-the-chart. Truly, God had a steady hand in all of this.
The news of my pending surgery was announced on the CTK Prayer Line, so a lot of people knew about the situation. Since that time, I’ve been told by many, many wonderful folks, “I prayed for your surgery and rapid healing.” I have absolutely no doubt that the prayers of my fellow Christ the King parishioners are a direct cause of my near-miraculous recuperation.
Simply saying, “Thank You” seems too little for the prayers of these faithful and devout Catholic friends, but it will have to do for the present … until Karen and I can pray for THEIR recovery from illness and other problems.
May God Bless You.
THE APOSTLE PAUL
Friends, it is incredibly important for every Catholic to become very familiar with the Apostle Paul. Why??? Let’s look at a few good reasons.
First, Saint Paul is credited with having written thirteen letters, or epistles, to the early Christian churches. These letters make up a whopping thirty-two percent of the New Testament of the Holy Bible.
Secondly, Paul’s impact on the early Church was enormous. Unlike several of his peers, Paul’s missionary efforts also included Gentiles, non-Jews, in Jesus’ plan of Salvation.
Paul and Peter had an angry discussion about this, in what biblical scholars have dubbed “The Incident at Antioch.” The sticking point was whether Gentile converts to “The Way” would have to observe the Laws of Moses. This meant that every Gentile male, regardless of age, would have to be circumcised. Whoa, talk about a deal killer!!!
Eventually, Peter capitulated and it was decided that circumcision would not be required of the Gentiles (Gal 2:11-14). This opened up the Church to many more folks and it is one of the major reasons why there were over one-million Christians by the year AD 100.
During his three missionary journeys (some say it was five), Paul walked over 10,000 miles, was shipwrecked at least once and he was stoned and left for dead. Besides that, during his life as an apostle of Jesus Christ, Paul was imprisoned by the Romans at least twice (again, some say five times) … and he had to flee for his life on numerous occasions.
Finally, Paul’s Letters predate all, or nearly all, of the Gospels. Because of this, they give us a unique and an excellent look at the very beginnings of the Catholic Church. Truly, the better we understand our roots, the finer Catholics we are likely to become.
Sometimes, it helps us to get a mental picture of a man … A tradition that dates back to the 1st century describes Paul as, "Baldheaded, bowlegged, strongly built; a man small in size, with meeting eyebrows, with a rather large nose, full of grace, for at times he looked like a man and at times he had the face of an angel."
Another description is, “Paul was bald, had piercing eyes and a long, angry, black beard.”
SAUL OF TARSUS
Saul was born in Tarsus, in the Roman province of Cilicia (present day south-central Turkey), between the years AD 2 and AD 5. His parents were Hebrew and he was "circumcised on the eight day, of the race of Israel, or the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrew parentage, in observance of the law a Pharisee" (Phil 3:5). The Hebrew name given him by his parents was Saul, but, because his father was a Roman citizen, Saul inherited Roman citizenship.
His childhood years were spent in Jerusalem, where he was taught by Rabbi Gamaliel, who was a celebrated Pharisee Doctor of Jewish Law. Saul studied under Rabbi Gamaliel for three years. As part of his education, Saul became fluent in speaking and writing in the Greek language. By trade, Saul became a tent maker.
When Saul graduated to adulthood, he became a Pharisee; a member of an ancient Jewish sect, distinguished by strict observance of the traditional and written law
Because of this, he believed that the new sect, “The Way,” was heretical, so he ended up being part of the community that persecuted those who followed the teachings of Jesus Christ. In AD 32, A zealous Saul consented to and witnessed Stephen's death (Acts 7:58-8:1).
Stephen was stoned to death for his testimony about Jesus (Acts 6-7). He is one of the first deacons appointed by the early church (Acts 6:1-6) and tradition has it that he was probably the first Christian martyr.
In AD 33, Saul requested and received, from the High Priest, permission to go to Damascus to search for those who believed in Jesus. He was given the authority to arrest anyone who attended a Synagogue and professed belief in "The Way." Those arrested were to be brought back to Jerusalem for trial and punishment (Acts 9:1-2).
As Saul (Paul) approached the city of Damascus, a burst of light suddenly appeared and caused him to fall to the ground (Acts 9:3-4). He then heard the voice of Jesus asking why he was persecuting Him and His church (Acts 9:4). Blinded, Saul was led to Damascus where his repentance leds to being healed, baptized, and becoming a Christian (Acts 9:4-18).
Saul is the Latin name of Paul (Acts 16:37, 22:25-28), the custom of dual names being common in those days. Since he grew up in a strict Pharisee (Jewish) environment, the name Saul was by far the more appropriate name to use.
Many folks mistakenly assume that the Lord changed Saul's name to Paul at some time after Saul’s converted from Judaism to Christianity. Unlike the instance of Jesus changing Simon's name to Kepha (Gk. Petros) as a way of signifying the special role he would play in the Church (Mt 16:18, Jn 1:41-42), in Paul's case there was no name change by the Almighty.
And when he thought it would serve his purpose, Saul used the name of Paul. Adopting his Roman name was typical of Paul's missionary style. His method was to put people at their ease and to approach them with his message in a language and style familiar to them. As Paul explained: “Although I am free in regard to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so as to win over as many as possible. To the Jews I became a Jew to win over Jews; to those under the Law I became like one under the Law - though I myself am not under the Law - to win over those under the Law. To those outside the Law, I became like one outside the Law. To the weak I became weak to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some. All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it. (1 Cor 9:19-23; see also 1 Cor 10:33, Rom15:1)
Paul participated in at least three missionary expeditions. On the first journey (AD 45-47), Barnabas was his partner. On the second journey (AD 50-54), Silas (or Silvanus) accompanied him. For part of the third journey (AD 50-54), Luke was Paul’s traveling companion. Paul was imprisoned in Jerusalem in AD 58, in Caesarea from AD 58-60, and in Rome from AD 61-63 and from AD 65-68.
Tradition has it that the Apostle Paul was beheaded, under the Roman Emperor Nero, in May or June of AD 68. His death probably occurred just before Nero’s suicide on June 9, AD 68. Paul was approximately 65 years of age when he died.
Saint Peter was crucified (probably upside down, by his own request) at about the same point in time. Some experts opine that Peter was crucified on the same day that Paul was beheaded and others place the dates of death as separate.
Eusebius Bishop of Caesarea (AD 263-339) and the author of The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, quotes Dionysius, the Bishop of Corinth, as saying that both Peter and Paul “suffered martyrdom at the same time.” Whether that is true, or not, is anybody’s guess.
It should be noted that Paul was a Roman citizen, so he was killed quickly by decapitation and that Peter was not a Roman citizen … thus, Peter was executed as a common criminal.
Saint Paul’s torso was buried in a tomb. Later, the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls was built over the tomb. The skulls of both Saint Peter and Saint Paul are in gold reliquaries above the sanctuary in the Basilica of Saint John Lateran in Rome.
A Final Thought
My friends, I believe that the Apostle Paul’s legacy to all Christians is perfectly summed up in his own words.
“… I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for His appearance.” 2Timothy 4:7-8
May God Bless You.
Friends, I thought a blog about the saints would be a fun project. And rather than covering the academic aspect of the saints, however, let’s look at the subject from the point of view of the average Catholic worshiper.
Another reason for this approach is that a good number of non-Catholics read my blog and they are invariably fascinated by the Catholic saints. A lot of these folks are interested in starting RCIA, so please consider this missive to be “Saints 101.”
First of all, we need a definition of the word “saint.” I searched the Catholic Dictionary, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) and several web sites on the internet and every definition was way too complicated for our use here. With this in mind, let me try to cobble together a country-boy working definition:
“A saint is a person who lived a life journey on earth according to the teachings of Jesus Christ. We Catholics believe that these especially holy men and women enter Heaven immediately after their physical deaths. The saints affect us, the living, in two distinct ways: We can use the lives of the Saints as a model for our own life. Also, the saints are our spiritual friends and, as such, we can ask them to pray both for us and with us … plus, we can petition them to intercede on our behalf with God.”
Like our normal mortal prayer partners here on earth, all we need to do is pray to a saint (or a group of saints) and ask for their prayers in our behalf. That sounds pretty simple, but it is also incredibly profound.
The Saints And Catholicism
The concept of saints and sainthood is uniquely Catholic and we find its roots in the first-century Church. Indeed, the relationship between spiritual friends, that of mortals and the saints in Heaven, is practiced only by Roman Catholics, Orthodox Catholics and, to some degree, by Anglo-Catholics (Anglicans).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes a beautiful statement about the saints. CCC-2683 states, “… When the saints entered into the Joy of their Master, they were ‘put in charge of many things.’ Their intercession is their most exalted service to God's Plan. We can and should ask them (the saints) to intercede for us and for the whole world.”
The distinction should be made that we Catholics honor, admire, love and venerate our saints, but we NEVER worship them. Also, we never pray “to” the saints; we simply ask the saints to pray “with” us.
Most of the 41,000+ Protestant denominations and individual non-denominations basically ignore the saints. And those few Protestant divisions who DO recognize saints consider them to be simply characters in the Holy Bibleand, as such, having no active participation in our daily lives as Christians.
Personally, I find that to be incredibly sad, but it is also why we Catholics refer to our belief system as “The Fullness of the Christian Faith.”
Interestingly, most of the world’s major religions revere special people who led incredibly faith-based lives, but almost all of them were masters or teachers. For instance, the Jewish have their tzadik, those who follow Islam greatly admire the wali and the Mahayana Buddhists venerate the bodhisattva.
None of these religions and faiths teach a concept of a personal relationship between mortals and those in Heaven, Nirvana or whatever they call the Great Beyond.
The Saints Choose Us
I’ve often heard it said that, “We don’t choose our saints – The saints choose us.” After praying with the Catholic saints for most of my life, I believe this to be true.
My Confirmation Saint is the Blessed Virgin Mary and I’ve always felt absolutely compelled to ask Mary to pray with me. Beyond that, whenever I prayerfully ask for Mary’s Intercession, I feel secure that my needs (and not particularly my wants) will receive the fullest attention.
Speaking from my heart, I love Saint Mary, the Queen of Heaven and All the Saints. That she chose me is incredibly humbling.
Another saint I’m drawn to is Saint Thèrése of Lisieux. In life, no two people or personalities could be more different, yet I love asking the incredibly holy Saint Thèrése for her prayers and intercessions.
Actually, most Catholics have several saints that are special to them at different times in their lives. Many have prayed asked Saint Anthony for help in finding a lost object or petitioned Saint Joseph for his aid in selling a home … the list is as endless as our need for a little extra help from the Almighty.
We Can ALL Be Saints
It’s a beautiful fact that we are all born to be saints. Indeed, I cannot think of a finer ambition for each and every one of us. And I’ll bet for each new saint that enters Heaven, God grins a little wider.
Truly, if we try our level best to lead a life devoted to God, we might actually succeed and become a saint ourselves.
It’s a well-known fact that Saint Thérèse of Lisieux often prayed that she would become a saint after she died … and her prayers were answered. In fact, Saint Thèrése not only became a saint, but one of the very few Doctors of the Church.
Hey, it’s possible!!
May God Bless You,
HAPPINESS IS A COLD DOG NOSE
Our Scottish terrier, Libby, died about a year ago and her death left a huge void in our tiny family. Sadly, because of health reasons, Karen and I were not able to have a dog during the last year.
Well, all that has changed now and we recently welcomed a new Scottie dog into our lives. Her name is Sophie and she is a total joy!!!
Praying For A Dog
Libby was such a wonderful companion and we feared that no dog could ever take her place. So, rather than force the issue, we decided to ask God to find exactly the right dog for us and to provide it at the proper time.
Yup, you read that right … we literally prayed for a dog.
And I must say that God absolutely delivered.
The Phone Call
A little over a month ago, Karen was talking to a dog breeder friend of ours on the phone. During the conversation, Karen inquired about dogs that were being retired. Chris, the breeder, told Karen, “Hey, I believe I have the perfect dog for you. She is a favorite of ours, but she’d fit right into your home. She’s quiet and a total love.”
By the time the phone conversation was finished, Karen knew all about the dog. Her name was Sophie (Greek for Wisdom), she was four and a half years old and she weighed nineteen pounds. And her coat was a gorgeous silver brindle.
Also, during that conversation, Chris volunteered to bring Sophie to our home on the following Tuesday for a meet ‘n greet. It would be an incredible understatement to say that Karen was just a tad excited … actually, she could hardly wait for the days to roll by.
Sophie Comes To Her Forever Home
True to her word, Chris and her husband, Fred, arrived at our home on the next Tuesday afternoon. I’ll never forget seeing our friends walking up our driveway with a beautiful silver Scotty dog in the lead.
Frankly, it was love at first sight. Other than being silver in color, Sophie was the absolutely spittin’ image of our beloved Libby. And, like Libby, Sophie was very calm, quiet and she loved to be held.
Of course, she stole our hearts and she immediately became an integral member of our family.
At this point in time, Sophie has lived with us for almost a month. At first, she didn’t realize that she was “home,” but she has quickly settled in.
What continues to amaze Karen and me is that Sophie is so darned good. She is perfectly housebroken, she doesn’t bark, she doesn’t lick and she is always present, just in case you need a dog in your lap (but she’s not pushy about it).
She loves to ride in our truck, but if we have a church event to attend and it’s too hot for her to be unattended in the truck, we’ve found that she is perfectly content to be left at home.
Even better, Sophie loves going on walks. Karen missed having a dog that would go on walks with her and now she has one. In every way, Sophie has filled a need that both of us have had since Libby’s passing.
Obviously, Karen and I are elderly. Because of this, we prefer a dog who is calm, quiet and a loving companion. Sophie fills all of those requirements, and she does it IN SPADES!!!
Friends, our little family is complete again and we have God to thank for that. He absolutely answered our prayers.
Remember my earlier comment about Sophie being the Greek word for Wisdom? God provided us with a dog named after the First and Highest of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit … Wisdom. (Isaiah 11:2)
Truly, every time I feel Sophie’s cold dog nose on my hand or her warm body snuggling up to me in bed, I thank God that we had the Wisdom to put every decision into His Hands. I also thank God for finding the perfect companion dog for us and for bringing Sophie into our lives at exactly the right time.
In fact, I’m convinced that God “set up” an entire series of events that led to Sophie being placed in her Forever Home with us. Without going into details, Sophie was retired because of a couple of health issues; one of which was the total loss of her last litter of puppies.
In a very real way, we needed Sophie and Sophie needed us.
And Thanks Be To God for bringing us together.
May God Bless You,
THOSE EXTRA SPECIAL MASSES
Friends, make no mistake about it, every Holy Mass is incredibly special. After all, we receive the spiritual and physical Body and Blood of Our Lord at each and every Mass.
Having said that, we’ve all celebrated Masses that, for one reason or another, have been extra special to us. Let me tell you about two Masses that were watershed moments for me.
Easter Vigil Mass at Saint John’s Catholic Church … April 15th, 2006
Yup, you guessed it; the Easter Vigil Mass 2006 was when Karen and I were accepted into the Roman Catholic Church.
We started our official journey into the Church on April 16th, 2005, when we attended our first Mass. Sadly, we had to wait until September to start participating in RCIA, but we stuck with it.
During that one-year wait, watching the rest of the congregation receiving the Eucharist during Mass did a very wonderful thing. It built a hunger within our very souls … a desperate hunger for the Eucharist.
Of course, our RCIA journey eventually brought us to a wonderful fulfillment of that hunger … the Easter Vigil Mass when we Catechumens were Baptized, Confirmed and received the First Eucharist.
I’ll never forget standing in front of the congregation at Saint John the Baptist, while the choir was singing the Litany of the Saints and the folks were responding, “Pray For Us” and at the end of each stanza, “All You Holy Men and Women Pray for us.”
By this time, of course, I was familiar with the Litany of the Saints and knew that it has roots back to the early-3rd century. The chant, which is sung only at special Masses, was captivating.
And it was then that it finally sunk in; we were about to enter the Church; the Church that Jesus Christ started upon earth and that has flourished for the last two-thousand years. Countless billions of Catholics had blazed the trail ahead of us and now we were about to finish our journey on earth as faithful servants of God … as believing Catholics.
Late in the Easter Vigil Mass, each of us was to be Baptized, Confirmed and to receive our First Eucharist.
Being Baptized was an intensely spiritual experience and I’m glad I received the Sacrament as an adult, so I can remember it.
And, of course, I messed up my single line, “And also with you,” during my Confirmation. I said something like “Thank You.” I suspect that Jesus got a belly laugh at my ineptness and that He totally understood.
Then, it was the time for my First Eucharist and I didn’t mess it up. Father Todd Molinari was the first priest to lay the Body of Christ upon my tongue. And I cried.
Finally, after a lifetime of study, searching and prayer, I’d received the Body, the Blood, the Soul and the very Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Finally, I had that most intimate of possible relationships; Jesus was part of me … and I was part of Him.
High Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Old Jerusalem, Israel … May 21st, 2009
In 2009, Karen and I were fortunate enough to go on a Catholic pilgrimage to Israel with Steve Ray’s Footprints of God Pilgrimages group. Guests on the pilgrimage were Scott Hahn and his wife, Kimberley, and my friend Mike Aquilina.
In many ways, this pilgrimage is the highlight of our lives as Catholics. The learning experiences were superb and the spiritual aspects of simply being in the Holy Land cannot be overstated. The entire pilgrimage was a series of new and wonderful discoveries.
I kept a journal of every day’s experiences during our entire pilgrimage to Israel. The following is an excerpt from my Holy Land Journal about our first Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
“At precisely two o’clock we processed into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with the priests and brothers chanting in Latin. The chanting of the Franciscans was both hypnotic and incredibly spiritual.
It would seem that my entire life has been series of moments when I mumbled to myself, “Dang, I wish I knew more.” Yep, this was yet another “Dang, I wish I knew more” moment.
Still chanting, we processed to the area in front of the Tomb of Christ. Egeria called the structure by the name “Martyrium.” Regrettably, Egeria’s quaint and very descriptive word was phased out of usage in the 5th century. Today, the Tomb and the stone structure around it are known as the Aedicule or Edicule (means “Little House“ in Greek).
I’d seen photos of the Aedicule on the Internet, in books and in ancient drawings from the 4th century, but seeing it in real life is light years ahead of any photograph or drawing.
Actually, it’s almost impossible to describe, other than to say it’s a rather tall rectangular marble structure with intricate carving and saint’s pictures everywhere and tons of somewhat glitzy brass lamps hanging in the strangest of places. Oh yeah, and candles, some huge and lots of small ones.
We filed in front of the Aedicule, the chanting stopped and the quietness began. I’ve never been around such a large group of people that were so quiet. Our eyes went from the gaping hole in the front of the Aedicule, to the brass lamps to the rustic candles that made a definite spitting noise as they burned. Finally, our eyes again focused on the entrance to Christ’s Tomb.
Soon, a Franciscan priest appeared and he told us about the Crucifixion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. The priest recounted how He was Resurrected on the third day, in accordance with the Scriptures, and how the burial chamber had been found empty.
While listening, I thought, “Holy Smokes, if the Franciscans sent out to Hollywood Central Casting, they could not have found a better man to do this presentation.” The priest talked slowly and in a round British accent. I have no doubt that he had delivered this very talk several hundred times, but it seemed like it was the first. Indeed, the Franciscan priest perfectly set the scene … Christ’s burial cave was right here, right in front of us and we should rejoice because it was empty.
We were to celebrate what Steve Ray and our half-dozen priests called a “High Mass.” I don’t know what I’m talking about here, so please discount anything I might say that is wrong.
We sang hymns in Latin and, while gorgeous in every way, I have no idea what we were singing. The Mass liturgy was all chanted and, during the Responsorial Psalms, we were led by a Franciscan nun who had perhaps the most phenomenal voice I’ve ever heard.
The homily was in English. And when the time came for the Liturgy of the Eucharist, it was easy enough to follow along. The language was unfamiliar, but the priest’s actions were just like our regular Mass at home.
When we filed up to receive the Eucharist, I was surprised to see that a high percentage of the pilgrims received upon their tongues. I’ve always received on the tongue, but it was really nice to see so many folks celebrating that ancient act of devotion and respect for the Blessed Sacrament.
When Mass was over, it was time for us to actually enter the Aedicule, the marble structure that houses the Tomb of Jesus. The Aedicule actually has two chambers. The first room is named after the Angel who rolled back the stone that was blocking the entrance to Jesus’ burial cave.
The Chapel of the Angel is the larger of the two chambers. In the middle of the room is a tiny altar that is topped with a piece of the rolling stone that the Angel moved. The interior of the room is entirely made of highly carved white marble.
The actual Tomb of Jesus is the second room and we were allowed to go in two at a time. Karen and I went in together. It was dark and on our right was a marble slab. The marble slab we saw is said to be a cover that actually lays on top of the actual stone bed upon which Jesus’ body was laid.
All I could do was kneel in front of the stone and kiss it.
And maybe I wept a tiny bit … OK, I cried.
Then, all too soon, a Franciscan monk put his hand on my shoulder and indicated that my time in His Tomb was over. After all, the rest of the folks behind us needed their time, as well.
It was interesting, watching the pilgrims as they came out of the Aedicule. Some were crying, others were laughing, a few were in hysterics and the occasional one was stone-faced.
Absolutely nobody, not a single soul, exited the Tomb of Jesus unchanged.
This had to be the most incredible Mass of my lifetime. And being able to spend some time in the Tomb of the Resurrection was a logical extension to that wonderful Mass.”
The above are two extra special Masses that really stand above all the rest for me. I’ve also experienced many more that were darned close. Celebrating the Mass in the Crypt at the Basilica of Saint Peter while being within sight of Saint Peter’s Tomb is one and an outdoor Mass on the Mount of the Beatitudes is another.
In thinking about extra special Masses, I believe that there are two significant factors at play; the occasion and the location.
For sure, those of us who have gone through RCIA treasure the Easter Vigil Mass. After all, the Vigil Mass was when we were finally accepted into the Church and it also stands as a yearly anniversary of that blessed event. For many folks, RCIA and not, the “occasion” of the Easter Vigil Mass makes it stand out among the many Masses we celebrate during our lifetime.
Another illustration of “occasion” Masses would be those where our children or those that we love were Baptized, Confirmed or celebrated their First Eucharist. Obviously, such Masses are totally extra special to all of the folks involved.
“Location” can also serve as a factor in making a Mass extra special to us. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Old Jerusalem is literally the holiest place in the world. It would be almost impossible to celebrate Mass in that incredible place without coming away feeling much closer to God.
It may sound strange, but a “location” Mass that really touched my heart was one we celebrated on the “stone steps” near the tiny Church of the Primacy of Peter on the Sea of Galilee. It was here that the Resurrected Jesus started a charcoal fire for cooking breakfast, advised the fishermen where to catch an enormous number of fish and reinstated Peter as the Prince of the Apostles (John 21). Just being there was incredible … and celebrating Mass where Jesus greeted the fisherman was icing on the cake.
By the way, the factors of occasion and location are NOT mutually exclusive. Imagine celebrating your Nuptial Mass at the Basilica of Saint Peter. In this case, both the occasion of the Wedding Mass and the location of Saint Peter’s would make the Mass extra-special … and one that neither the bride nor the groom would ever forget.
Whatever factor affects us, it is a really good thing when a Mass becomes extra special. Every time we experience a Mass like that, we are brought just a little closer to God.
May God Bless You.