Steve Timm's Blog
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.
SOME THOUGHTS ON EUCHARISTIC PRAYER II
Last Saturday evening, I was kneeling in my pew during Mass and concentrating a little harder than usual on the Eucharistic Prayer. It was Eucharistic Prayer II and the words suddenly struck me as incredibly beautiful … the ebb and flow of the prayer covered me like a heavenly blanket.
When we arrived home, I opened my current copy of The Magnificat (Large Print Edition J) to the “red pages” and slowly read Eucharistic Prayer II. Again, I marveled at the incredible weaving of words and sacred images. Indeed, it was true genius.
The next day, I returned to The Magnificat, found the passage that affected me the most and sloooowly read it as a lectio divina exercise. Lectio, of course, is the act of meditative reading of Sacred Scripture.
That passage I prayerfully read in lectio divina is as follows:
Have mercy on us, we pray, that with the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, with blessed Joseph, her Spouse, with the blessed Apostles, and all the Saints who have pleased you through the ages, we may merit to be coheirs to eternal life, and may praise and glorify you through your Son, Jesus Christ.
WOW, that tiny fifty-five word section of Eucharistic Prayer II is actually an abbreviated version of the Litany of the Saints. Even more importantly, it ends with a petition that WE may allowed to join God in Heaven for All Eternity.
The “writer’s section” of my brain absolutely loves not only all of Eucharistic Prayer II in general, but that short section in particular. From a writing standpoint, in critically looking at the construction of the prayer, it couldn’t have been done any better.
Eucharistic Prayer II isn’t the “Perfect Prayer;” that accolade is reserved for the Lord’s Prayer and the Sign of the Cross, but I believe that most of us would agree that it’s right up there.
Reflections on the History of Eucharistic Prayer II
The origin of Eucharistic Prayer II (EPII) is lost to history. Most Catholic theologians agree that it is the oldest of the four Eucharistic Prayers and that it probably dates back to the early-third century.
Legend has it that Saint Hippolytus of Rome (AD 170-235) is quite likely the author of EPII and that might very well be true. The New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia says this about the man, “Hippolytus was the most important theologian and the most prolific religious writer of the Roman Church in the pre-Constantinian era. Regrettably, most of his works have been lost or are known only through scattered fragments.”
Saint Hippolytus was one of the few early-Church fathers who aggravated the status-quo of the Church. Hippolytus was known as a “rigorist;” he was an ethical conservative who publicly criticized the policies of Pope Callixtus (AD 217-222), Pope Urban I (AD 222-230) and Pope Pontian (AD 230-235). Apparently, he had reconciled his differences with the Church by the time of his death in AD 235; otherwise, he would not have been considered both a Saint and a Martyr.
My personal feelings are that it's a darned shame that almost all of Saint Hippolytus’ writings have been lost. BUT, if his one surviving work is Eucharistic Prayer II, that in itself is truly enough of a contribution for ten-thousand lifetimes..
A Simple Thought
Friends, let’s expand our subject matter from the Eucharistic Prayer II to ALL of our Catholic prayers.
As Catholics we are constantly surrounded by beautiful prayers and most of them are not only ancient and time-proven, but they are divinely inspired.
My gosh, there is the Holy Mass (which is a prayer within itself), the four Eucharistic Prayers, the Holy Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, the Lord’s Prayer, the Sign of the Cross … the list is practically endless.
Hey, we are only human and I believe that sometimes we get lulled into a sense of complacency about both our faith and our Catholic prayers.
I’d recommend that we all take a fresh look at our wonderful Catholic prayers and that we spend some quality lectio divina time with them.
My Simple Thought is this: If we can renew our Love of God by understanding His Prayers just a little better, we can all be assured of being a little closer to God.
And that simply has to be a really, really good thing. Right?
May God Bless You.
A LETTER FROM MOM
My friends, I’d like you to imagine something with me.
Imagine that your mother wrote a letter to you a week after you were born. Now, imagine being close to your mother until she passed on to Our Lord at seventy-three years of age. And, finally, imagine not being aware of your Mom’s letter until fully twenty-years after her death.
That is precisely what happened to me. Let’s start at the beginning.
The Baby Book
On Mother’s Day, three years ago, I was out of reading material, so I raided an out-of-the-way cabinet that just holds junk books. During that search, I found an old and very used light blue book that veritably bulged with stuff. Upon investigation, I found that it was MY BABY BOOK.
Frankly, I was totally unaware that such a book even existed.
I would have to suppose that the baby book was typical of those kept by most loving and doting mothers in the 1940s. Like most mothers at the time, my Mom was left to face motherhood alone. My Dad was involved in fighting a war and there was a significant chance that she would be a widow like my Mom’s best friends, Dorothy, Betty and Mary.
In my baby book, I found the tiny bead bracelet that identified me as “Timm” in the nursery at Saint Patrick’s Hospital in Missoula. There were also hundreds of notations about all of the stages of my early life. And, of course, there was the obligatory pair of hand-knitted booties and about a bazillion baby photos.
Being the subject of the book, I found the very early entries to be fascinating. It was part of my lifetime that I scarcely remember.
Then, I found The Letter.
And so it was on Mother’s Day, May 12th, 2013, that I discovered the letter that my Mom wrote to me almost seventy years earlier. The letter, written in my Mom’s distinctive cursive handwriting, filled the all of page 47 in my baby book.
And being a tough guy, I held my tears until maybe the end of the first sentence … Then, I lost it.
It was truly a watershed moment in my life … tears and all.
Below is the letter my Mom wrote to me on Friday June 25th, 1943.
Stevie dear, as your mother, I naturally think you are a wonderful child. But as you grow older, you in turn shall show me how you mold your life and character.
My one hope is that you will always feel free to bring your little problems to me and let us work them out together.
I shall devote my life to you and try beyond all things to make your home life a happy one for you to remember. Your Dad and I love you so much and are so very proud of you.
In Love, Your Mother
At first reading (and second and third), the letter seemed a little vague. Then, I slowly understand that I was only one-week old at the time and that I essentially was a tiny human work-in-progress.
In the end, I know for a solid fact that Mom considered her newborn baby, the one she called “Stevie,” to be a Gift of Love from God. And that unqualified love brightly shines throughout the letter.
In a very real way, Mom’s letter put a Crowning Glory on the loving relationship that we had during her entire lifetime. She was my Mom, but she was also my very good friend.
Having said that, when my one true love, Karen, came along, my Mom was respectful (or intelligent) enough to never interfere in that most precious of human relationships. After God, Karen has always been the center of my life … and I know for a fact that she feels the same way about me.
Still, my Mom was just that … My Mom. I will always love her dearly. Also, being a Scripture-believing Catholic, I lovingly pray for her beautiful soul each and every day.
Oh, let’s talk about one last thing before closing. I will forever be convinced that God played a very significant role in my finding of both the baby book and Mom’s Letter. And the fact that both turned up on MOTHER’S DAY absolutely smacks of a God-Incidence.
I’m sure that most folks of faith would totally agree!!!
May God Bless You.
MEERKATS, ICE WORMS AND SUCH
Something that has always fascinated me is the incredible diversity of animals that God made to inhabit the earth. Between mammals, birds, fish and icky creeping things, the variety is absolutely stunning.
The bulk of my lifetime has been spent hunting big game animals around the world. In all those years, I never tired of watching creation and God’s wonderful Gifts to us.
I’ve been on two extended trips to South Africa and Zimbabwe. The object of my trips was hunting the local fauna, but that never prevented me from totally enjoying the unique and wonderful non-game critters.
On both of my safaris, I saw meerkats, lots of meerkats.
Frankly, every time we happened into a colony of meerkats, I burst out laughing … they each look like a tan skinny balloon animal that a carnival magician might create in less than ten seconds.
At first, I equated the meerkats with something that is within my experience; prairie dogs and other rodents. But, nothing could be further from the truth. Meerkats are true mongooses; two-pound carnivores that hunt in pocks and have a defined social order.
You’ve undoubtedly watched meerkats on the National Geographic Channel on cable television. It’s amazing how these little animals set out a sentinel; a sergeant-at-arms, if you will, whose duty it is to look for any impending threats and to give a shrill whistle when danger is near.
The sentinel is all business, but his being on guard duty leaves the rest of the troop to wrestle and cavort. Or, if the tribe of meerkats feel less active, they simply stand around in the vertical position with silly expressions on their funny little faces.
In the meerkat, God truly gave us a Gift of Laughter.
It seems that everyone loves the African warthog … and I do, too. My knowledge is based on having spent a good deal of time in the African bush and seeing multiple warthogs every single day.
There is a single trait I’ve noticed among warthogs. When the hogs are in a group, they seemingly put others before themselves. Let me explain.
Several times each day, we’d happen upon a mother warthog with a gaggle of a dozen or so ten-pound warthoglets. The mother would lead the troop in running to the safety of their “pig hole.”
Upon arriving at the hole, the mother would wait for each of the hoglets to back into the hole. Then, after every one of her children were safe, she’d back into the hole herself.
I’ve seen the same dynamics at play whenever I’d stalk up on a boar and sow warthog together. The boar almost always faced the apparent danger (me with a rifle in my hands) and would only leave the scene after the lady hog had backed her way into their pig hole. Then, the boar would run over to the hole and back into it, as well.
It didn’t take long for me to understand that a fella probably doesn’t want to mess with an adult warthog when he or she was in the pig hole and ready to charge out … eight-inch tusks and all. J
Friends, I’ve never taken a Disneyesque view of animals. Wild critters do not have emotions and their actions are primarily guided by instinct and previous learning.
Still, the self-sacrificing behavior that I’ve witnessed from watching warthogs gives me pause … maybe they actually have more going on in their brains than we give them credit for. Just maybe.
In the warthog, God gave us a Gift of Fidelity and willingness to sacrifice one’s life for others.
Ice Worms … Really
What kind of bait should a fisherman use when he is ice fishing? The joke would have us believe that the bait was “ice worms.”
God was apparently the first one to tell the joke because He actually made ice worms.
One of the strangest and most interesting critters I’ve ever seen was ice worms. Interestingly, ice worms were considered to be a false legend of the Native Americans until a scientific expedition on Alaska’s Muir Glacier proved that they actually existed.
And there are lots of them! Ice worms basically live wherever there are glaciers in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and the Yukon Territory … and no other place.
The first time I saw ice worms was above the Arctic Circle in the Yukon Territory. My sheep-hunting guide, Rudy, and I were sidehilling on a wicked talus slope near the top of an unnamed mountain when we discovered a large glacier in our way.
We couldn’t go across the glacier, for fear of falling into a crevasse and passing over the top of it would have taken almost super-human strength. So we elected to drop down the mountain about five-hundred vertical feet and try our luck at passing under the glacier.
When we arrived at the bottom, we found that there was a really large ice cave in the face of the glacier. It really looked inviting, so we decided to explore the cavern.
The day was sunny and bright but, after working our way a few hundred feet under the glacier, we were in a world of incredibly blue twilight. It was both beautiful and scary.
After we went a little deeper, Rudy told me, “Steve, put one of your ears on the cave wall and you’ll hear the glacier.” So, I did and, sure enough, I could plainly hear the moans and groans of the glacier as it inched its way down the slope.
In truth, the sounds of the glacier were terrifying. Instead of being a solid geological feature, the glacier was alive and moving. And, of course, I suddenly realized that the ice cave would eventually fall … hopefully, not when Rudy and I were in it.
We went traversed deeper into the ice cave and it became almost totally dark. Then, Rudy flipped on his flashlight and said, “Steve, let’s look for some ice worms.”
I laughed and commented, “Heck yes, we might need to go ice fishing … just like in the joke.”
It was then that Rudy told me about ice worms; how they existed in the glaciers of the northwestern North America and no place else. He also told me that they thrive on snow algae that lives within the glaciers.
And, sure enough, after ten minutes or so of poking around with his knife, Rudy found a pocket of little black worms. They varied from a half-inch to a full inch long and they were about the same proportion of length to width as our common earth worms.
Rudy showed incredible sensitivity by telling me, “Steve, let’s just look at them for a minute and put them back. Ice worms can only live at 32º Fahrenheit … and at as little as five degrees obove freezing, they literally liquefy and essentially melt from the workings of their own internal enzymes.”
So, we looked at the ice worms and marveled that any creature could live in the eternal chill and darkness of a glacier. And then we put them back in the pocket from which they came.
On our way out of the ice cave, Rudy quoted a love poem that features ice worms. The poem was written by Robert William Service, “The Bard of the Yukon,” in the year 1910.
“In the land of pale blue snow
Where it’s ninety-nine below,
And the polar bears are dancing on the plain,
In the shadow of the pole
Oh, my Heart, my Life, my Soul,
I will meet thee when the ice-worms nest again.”
In the ice worm, God gave us the Gift of Knowledge that He can do literally anything. He can even create life where no life could logically exist.
Yet, it does … and it thrives.
May God Bless You.
During my long lifetime, some of the most beautiful things I’ve seen were those that were skylined on the horizon.
We’ve all witnessed this and things that are positioned on the horizon are perfect in every detail. I believe that this is because of the backlighting and the relative dullness of everything that is not on the skyline.
Something I’ve also noticed is that the closer the horizon, the better the skylining and the finer the detail. Obviously, the horizon can be near or far, but nearer is always better.
Horns on the Horizon
Many years ago, I was deer hunting near the Middle Fork of the John Day River in eastern Oregon. I was hunting alone and carefully approaching the craggy top of Sharp Ridge. I was bent over and stalking low when I saw an amazing sight.
A fully-mature 6X6 bull elk walked out on the skyline … and another … and another. Within a few seconds, there were five six-point bull elk lined up on the horizon. And they were only about fifty-yards from me.
They were backlit by a turquoise blue sky and I could see every possible detail. One had a broken antler point and another apparently had been rolling in a wallow because he was covered with mud. I could see everythingand it was a scene beyond description.
Frankly, I forgot all about hunting and simply let the wonder of the scene roll over me. It was like the Wind of the Holy Spirit at the first Pentecost.
And then, as quickly as the elk had appeared, they vanished with the clopping of hooves on the rocks. Still, the image remained … and it will be filed away in my brain until the day I die.
I was hunting in the People’s Republic of Zimbabwe very shortly after the Rhodesian War ended. Basically, I was harvesting the most plentiful game animals on a special government permit and the meat was used to feed the local Matibele tribe villagers.
One morning, my Professional Hunter friend and I were leaving camp when we came upon an incredible sight. We stopped the Land Cruiser and both looked in awe.
A huge bull giraffe was standing beside an enormous camelthorn tree. And the background was made up of gorgeous billowy clouds that were outlined by the rising sun. To make it better, there were hundreds of sun rays lacing their way through the clouds.
God was literally saying to Clive and me, “Hey Guys, this is my gift to you this beautiful morning!!!”
After a while, I took a series of 35mm photographs and, believe it or not, one frame turned out to be almost as gorgeous as the scene itself. In fact, I’ve used the photograph as in illustration when teaching “photo divina” in my Lenten Studies Classes.
Obviously, “photo divina” is a play on words, a silly personal extension on the theological reading exercise of lectio divina. Still, I personally believe that we can learn spiritual truths from images and that very special photographs can bring us closer to God.
Jesus On The Skyline
Let’s try to visualize something together …
In the deepest part of our Mind’s Spiritual Eye, let’s imagine Jesus skylined on the very, very closest horizon. He is so close that we are part of Him and He is a part of us. We can imagine every possible physical detail about Jesus that we read about in The Bible.
Obviously, Jesus is backlighted by the amazing brilliance of the Face of God. And the atmosphere in which we live; indeed, the very air that we breathe, is the Holy Spirit. The Spirit lives in us and we live in the Spirit.
Now, with Jesus in the sharpest possible focus, try to imagine His soul ... His totally sinless soul. Try to imagine walking by His side in Galilee and listening to Him teach. Try to imagine how very much He loves us ... just try, just try.
There are lots of directions you can go with this wonderful spiritual exercise. I use “Skyline Meditation” often and I would recommend it highly to all my friends who are God-Loving Catholics.
Friends, in Genesis 1:26 we are told, “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness …’” He did that because we are super special to Him. He wants us to have a special relationship with Him; He wants us to love Him.
Besides being made in God’s own image, God gave us a brain that has totally unique powers. Among many other things, He gave us the power of faith, the power of imagination and natural yearning to love God.
I honestly believe that our sentient minds and our imaginations were given to us by God for a very specific reason. It is our imagination and our instinctual Love of God that makes spiritual exercises, like lectio divina and my personal favorite, “Jesus On The Skyline,“ so very special to both us and to God.
Truly, our mortal minds are not fully capable of imagining God, or Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. Having said that, I believe that by using our God-given mental powers … imagination, faith and such … we can get just a tiny bit closer to Him.
And I cannot think of a single thing that’s more important than that.
May God Bless You
GRANDPA HANK’S SWAP MEETS
In my youth, I spent many summers working on my maternal grandparent’s farm. The farm was located a few miles east of Corvallis, Montana and, at 320 acres, it was small by Montana standards. Still, we raised enough grain and alfalfa and sold enough milk and eggs to live a comfortable lifestyle.
One of the things I always enjoyed about living on the farm was the wonderful community gatherings that my Grandpa Hank hosted once a month during the summertime. Hank called them “Swap Meets,” but they were way more than that.
The Corvallis Farming Community
The farming community around Corvallis, Montana was incredibly communal. Technically, the community would have been termed an “agricultural cooperative,” though no one called it that. As a kid, it seemed totally normal to me … but now, as an adult, I can see how very unusual, and complicated, such an approach to division of labor and equipment ownership was. Let me explain.
Every farmer in the area personally owned a tractor and all of the ancillary gear that was needed on his farm … harrows, hay rakes, mowing bars and such. BUT, the entire community of more than a dozen farmers owned many pieces of large farming equipment totally in common. By “large farming equipment,” I mean a combine, a threshing machine, a huge hay bailer, a stacker and a massive manure spreader.
Actually, the concept went further than that. We all worked on each other’s farms. When it came time to plant, we went from farm to farm and planted. And when it came time to harvest, we calculated the needs of each farm’s crop and we harvested them in turn.
And, besides that, it was fun. The entire community worked together and played together. Naturally, we were evenly split between Protestants and Catholics, but we all worshipped God and loved His son, Jesus Christ.
Hank’s Swap Meets
I have no idea when Grandpa Hank started his “Swap Meets,” but our family oral history has it that I attended one just a few days after I was born in June of 1943.
Hank and Grandma Vista would host one swap meet a month during the summertime. Basically, it was a free exchange of farm produce and other things that each farmer wanted to share. Every farm had a personal garden and there was always more than the family needed … so this was an opportunity to give to those who were less fortunate.
It was also a chance to “level off” the fruits of the land. For instance, Grandma Vista loved to grow tomatoes in her garden, but she hated working with potatoes. Our next door neighbors, Ing and Stella Nordheim, grew many varieties of potatoes and seemed to be challenged when it came to cultivating tomatoes.
I remember many times when Ing would bring Grandma two or three 100-pound sacks of potatoes and lovingly take a half-dozen bushels of ripe tomatoes home with him.
Then, there was the time that Grandpa didn’t want to feed his hogs over the winter, so we butchered them. During the next couple of weeks, we made county sausage and laid the patties up in the lard-filled ceramic crocks. We also filled our large smokehouse with hams, slabs of bacon and side pork. Keeping the smoky maplewood fire going was my job and it seemed like I worked in the smokehouse for weeks.
Obviously, our small family couldn’t eat the bountiful harvest of hams, bacon and sidepork, so we shared the preserved meat at the next swap meet.
I’ll never forget the hams and bacon slabs hanging from Grandma’s laundry line like so many huge fruits from a tree. And, indeed, they were fruits … Fruits of the Land to be shared with anyone who was in need.
As soon as I was able to understand such things, Grandpa Hank taught me that what he especially cherished was seeing a person arrive at a swap meet totally emptyhanded and leave with items and produce that his family desperately needed. THAT was the essence of the concept … for folks with plenty to freely share with those who had little.
At one of the last swap meets I attended, I shared a good deal of myself. At the time, I personally owned only a few items; a yellow-handled pocket knife, a Marlin Sideloader.22 rifle and a Winchester Model 94 .30-30. But, I’d recently worked outside the community a bit and spent my earnings on a brand-new Swiss Army knife.
I was absolutely enchanted by my new whiz-bang knife with umpteen blades, a can opener, screwdrivers and a corkscrew. In my young eyes, it was the ultimate knife, so I decided to give away my old pocket knife to someone who needed it.
At the next swap meet, I heard that my best buddy in the entire world, a fellow ragamuffin named Sylvester, had lost his pocket knife. About an hour after learning about this, Sylvester showed up and sat down in a lawn chair … so I walked over and laid my yellow-handled pocket knife on the chair arm.
Sylvester quietly asked, “For me?”
I told him, “Absolutely, I had two and you had none … so, now we each have one.”
For a moment, I thought Sylvester was going to cry, but we were tough guys and we didn’t do stuff like that. OK, maybe Sylvester sniffed a little but, after all, it was allergy season. J
Then Sylvester muttered, “Thank you, Stinkie, I’ll never forget this. Never.”
A little while later, Grandpa Hank came over to me and said, “I saw that and it made me proud. Our neighbor, Sylvester, lost his pocket knife and you freely shared … that’s what our swap meets are all about. Sometimes it’s a big thing and sometimes it’s little, but every time we share of ourselves God Smiles.”
Then, Hank gave me a big grin, a guy side-hug and he drifted off into the crowd of happy folks.
Friends, I Googled the words “Bible … Sharing” and came up with about a zillion Biblical quotes. Rather than list them all here, let’s just say that there are many, many Old Testament and New Testament references to sharing.
Grandpa Hank was not a lettered man, but he read the Holy Bible every single evening. Two of his favorite quotes were, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God”(Hebrews 13:16) and “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise” (Luke 3:11).
Essentially, Grandpa Hank was right, every time we unselfishly share with others, God Smiles.
And if we share often and lots, God Absolutely Grins!!!
May God Bless You.
Early in my teenage years, I was riding my bike near the mouth of Johnson Creek when I spotted something I’d never seen before … a hobo camp.
The camp was deep in the brush on the east side of the creek and it very much resembled a military bivouac. The shelters were made up of several large government surplus tarps and one WWII squad tent. A good-sized fire with a metal cooking frame and grill were in the center of the encampment.
The delicious smell of coffee drifted to me in the slight breeze.
This was before the days of the phrase “Stranger Danger,” but the same principle was drilled into me. My parents had warned me to stay away from folks we didn’t know.
The camp fascinated me, so contrary to my parent’s admonitions, I walked my bike to the edge of the campsite and leaned it against a tree. Then, I warily walked up to the fire.
As I was standing by the campfire, a deep bass voice sounded, “Hello, stranger, coffee’s ready. Why don’t you join us for a good ol’ cup of Joe.” I looked up; the author of the voice was a huge black man with an enormous smile on his face.
At that, several other folks emerged from their shelters and the squad tent. Coffee was on and it was time for a cup, so I sat down on a tree stump and grabbed an empty cup. A few seconds later the big black man poured coffee in my cup and said, “Enjoy the coffee, my new friend.”
Maybe it was because of the implied danger aspect I felt, but the coffee was the finest I’d ever tasted.
There were about a dozen folks around the campfire. The black man I first saw, introduced himself as Ben. Then, the men introduced themselves in turn. I was near the end; I told them that my name was Steve and I was amazed at how nice their campsite was.
The last man introduced himself as Peter and said, “These friendly folks call me Bishop Peter, because I try to keep the Christian faith alive in this camp. I happen to be a devout Catholic, but all are welcome.”
Bishop Peter was a rather tall, thin man and he told me, “Steve, you are safe here. We’re all good guys who love the Lord … BUT, don’t ever go down to Burnside Street and try to make friends. You could end up hurt or dead.”
I thanked Bishop Peter and assured him that this encampment was adventure enough. All of the guys around the campfire laughed heartily at that comment.
Then, Bishop Peter added one more piece of advice. He said, “Steve, please don’t refer to us as bums, indigents or homeless. We call ourselves ‘Travelers,’ because that’s our lifestyle and that’s what we are. Home is wherever we happen to be at any given moment and we have a wonderful family that consists of many good friends.”
I finished my coffee, washed my cup in Johnson Creek and wiped it dry. Then, I hung it on a short tree limb with several others.
After I thanked my hosts, the Travelers, Ben asked if I would like to visit them tomorrow and share “Hobo Stew.” Of course, I accepted.
Then, I asked quietly, “What’s Hobo Stew?”
Ben laughed and told me that everybody that wants to eat brings food to put in the stew; meat, potatoes, onions, carrots, beans or corn and we all share in one big pot. Then, he suggested, “Why don’t you bring a single can of corn? And be here about eleven in the morning.”
The next day, I arrived at about 10:45 with my book bag full of goodies. My contribution to the Hobo Stew was a can of corn, a can of kidney beans and a quart of canned venison from the mule deer I’d killed the previous fall.
The cooking frame was already set up over the fire and an enormous iron pot was hanging from one of the metal hooks.
Ben was apparently the designated cook and, from the way he orchestrated the Hobo Stew, he was quite familiar with the process. Ben put several quarts of water in the pot and added the venison. And after he’d brought the kettle to a proper boil, he added potato slices, a couple of chopped-up onions, corn, kidney beans, a few tomatoes and a couple handfuls of rice.
In about a half-hour, the aroma coming from the stew would have put the finest gourmet restaurant to shame … it was that good. And it was a delight to watch the chunks and pieces come to the surface as Ben slowly stirred it.
It was about that time that Ben turned to me and said with a big grin, “Steve, Bishop Peter is the most honest among us, so he is the one who will declare when the Hobo Stew is done.”
After several taste tests and the addition of a few spices, Bishop Peter loudly announced, “Travelers, the Lord’s Meal is READY!!!”
We all washed up in the creek, grabbed a blue enameled bowl and waited anxiously as Ben ladled out our portions. There was some bannock bread on the sideboard, so we also added that to the bowl. Then, we all sat on stumps around the fire.
Bishop Peter turned to me and said, “Steve, we always say Grace before meals and we’d like you to join us.” Of course, I nodded my head “Yes.”
Then, Bishop Peter and most of the Travelers did the Sign of the Cross and intoned the beautiful prayer that we Catholics say at Grace before meals: “Bless us, O Lord and these, Thy Gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy Bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Following that, Bishop Peter led us in what I later learned was the Catholic Guardian Angel Prayer: “Angel of God, my Guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me here, ever this day be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen”
Then, we dug into the Hobo Stew and bannock bread like a pack of starved wolves. It was quite possibly the finest food I’d ever eaten … incredibly delicious it was, incredibly delicious.
Over the next couple of months, I often visited the Travelers on Hobo Stew day. I always brought my contribution and my deer meat quickly became everyone’s favorite.
Towards fall, Bishop Peter took me aside and told me that the Travelers would be moving on and would be spending the next six or seven months in California. He also mentioned that they’d be back around at some time in May of the next year.
It was with great sadness that I bid farewell to me friends, the Travelers. And I missed them more than words can tell.
About the first of May of the following year, I started riding my bike down the Johnson Creek trail every few days, just to see if my friends had returned. True to Bishop Peter’s words, it was about mid-May when I finally saw the campground full of canvas shelters and the huge squad tent.
I rode my bike down to the camp and leaned it against a tree. And, as I was standing by the campfire, a deep bass voice sounded, “Hello, stranger, coffee’s ready. Why don’t you join us for a good ol’ cup of Joe.” I looked up; the author of the voice was a huge black man.
It was my friend Ben … and Bishop Peter was by his side and they both had enormous smiles on their faces.
The next day, we had Hobo Stew with what had become known as “Brother Steve’s Deer Meat” and it was every bit as good as the first time.
Over that summer season and a couple more, I visited the Travelers several more times. During that time some new faces appeared and a few old ones went another way.
There were two constants, however; Ben and Bishop Peter were always there and the group continued to be made up of God-loving, wonderful folks.
I later learned that several of the party, including Ben and Bishop Peter, dressed up in their finest clothes and celebrated Holy Mass at Saint Agatha Catholic Church every Sunday they were in our area. I have no doubt that they fit right in and that the congregation welcomed the Travelers whenever they appeared.
Friends, I believe that God puts good people in our lives so that we can learn lessons from them. From the Travelers, I learned not to judge other folks by their station in life, their clothes or their chosen lifestyle.
And I also learned to totally cherish a big heaping bowl of Hobo Stew!!!!!
May God Bless You
DAILY GIFTS FROM GOD
I’ve spent my entire life being incredibly active, but that all came to a sudden halt a few months ago.
On a sunny afternoon, Karen and I were working in our back yard. We were cutting and fitting concrete pavers, when I took a slight misstep with my left foot. And, in an instant, I felt a force-ten pain in my left knee.
It was one of those few times in my life that I said to myself, “Ohhh my Gosh, this is going to be a total life changer.”
The pain didn’t go away, so I hobbled through our paver job and rested for the rest of the day. I thought the old axiom of elevation, ice and rest would fix my left knee, but I was wrong.
The pain continued through the succeeding weeks and months. I was literally forced to join the ranks of the old duffers who hobble, limp and gimp. Then, my knee started to “lock” many times each day and the pain became absolutely intolerable.
With the painful knee locking came the realization that I’d be eventually forced to visit a doctor. Guys generally stay away from docs, which is probably why ladies live longer. J
Of course, going to the doc with a serious problem only starts the journey. I knew that my regular physician would probably not be able to fix the problem. Then, she’d suggest a specialist or three and that knee surgery was a distinct probability.
So, I visited our family doctor, Roberta Ruggeri, and she opined I absolutely needed to see an orthopedic specialist. And, with head hung low, I started along that journey.
To make a long story mercifully short, my first orthopedic doc briefly looked at my knee, watched my pitiful limp and ordered an MRI. The MRI images revealed that I had tears in both meniscuses in my left knee. Basically, each meniscus is a large shock-absorbing structure of cartilage … and I’d “blown” both of them.
Not only that, the MRI revealed that I had “Grade 3/4 degenerative joint disease” on the rear aspect of my knee cap. That was very bad news.
Upon seeing the results, the original bone doc referred me to an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in knee surgery. In a phone conversation, the original orthopedic commented that knee surgery, either arthroscopic or open, was appropriate.
The orthopedic doctor closed our conversation by telling me that the slight misstep in our back yard had not actually caused the problem. It was simply “the last straw,” the catalyst that revealed the painful rewards of a lifetime spent hunting the hills and being involved in more than a few horse wrecks.
When we saw the new doc, the orthopedic arthroscopic knee surgeon, we were very impressed. He put us at ease and explained that neither meniscus would heal by themselves. Basically, I need arthroscopic surgery to set things right again. Because of the pain, I opted for the surgery, and as soon as humanly possible.
Regrettably, Dr. Tella’s surgery schedule was booked solid for the next two-months. BUT, a lady called shortly before my appointment and canceled her surgery … the blessed soul had adopted a baby from Uganda; her baby was ready and she had booked the next plane to Kampala.
As far as the lady was concerned, her long-awaited surgery could wait, but her brand-new baby couldn't. Bless her heart for that wonderful decision.
Because of the lady’s last-minute cancellation, my knee surgery was scheduled for late next week!!!!
God-Incidence? Karen and I believe so.
My Choice … Lemons or Lemonade
The last several months have seen an incredible change in my lifestyle. I haven’t been able to hike my usual two miles every day and I’ve had to accept a very sedentary daily routine.
And it’s been wonderful.
Because my life has been pretty much at a standstill, I’ve been using the time to more fully appreciate the wonderful gifts from God. It’s been one of those “lemons or lemonade” situations. I could sit around and feel sorry for myself, but I prefer embrace this new chapter in my life.
Previously, I’d been aware of the hundreds of flowers that Karen grows in our yard, but I hadn’t truly appreciated them. And things like our fish pond, the happy sound of our bubbling rock, the koi and the Anna’s hummingbirds that inhabit our back yard are now even more extra-special.
Basically, my physical infirmity has allowed me to take the time to love all of the fantastically beautiful things that surround each and every one of us every day.
I’ve learned a great deal in the last few months. Living with serious pain on a daily basis has really taught me how to “Offer It Up” with incredible sincerity. And, I’ve learned not to casually look at all of the Gifts from God, but to actually see them.
In a very real way, being crippled-up has given my spiritual attitude a jumpstart … and that is an unexpected blessing.
A Few Thoughts
Friends, I believe that there are no coincidences; that there are no accidents, and that our existence on earth is not guided by mere happenstance.
I truly believe that God carefully weaves situations, opportunities and problems into our lives. He does this because He wants us to learn patience, tolerance and love. He wants us to become better people … He wants us to grow.
Indeed, I consider this “invalid chapter” in my life to be a Gift from God. It’s taught me a great deal and I’m still learning more every day.
I fully expect that the orthopedic knee specialist, Dr. Tella, will be able to repair my knee. And I pray for that. But, if the knee doesn’t improve with surgery, I’m OK with that outcome, as well.
In the end, it’s like everything else in our lives … It’s all up to God.
And that’s the way it should be.
May God Bless You.
In observance of Memorial Day this year, I thought I would share this personal writing with my friends who read my Catholic Finish Strong blog.
This story is absolutely true and I tried my level best to relate the experience precisely as it unfolded in my life.
As a note: The First Lieutenant’s family still lives in the Milwaukie, Oregon area, so I X’ed out his name to protect the family’s privacy.
Have a safe and enjoyable Memorial Day and God Bless,
TO A SATISFACTORY SON
One day, in the 1980s, a young man walked into our jewelry store. He handed me a pocket watch and a ring and said that he wanted to sell the pair for scrap gold.
I looked at the items and was surprised. The ring was marked "United States Military Academy" with the date 1916 and it was gorgeous. If memory serves, the ring was fourteen-karat yellow gold and the inside of the shank was engraved with the graduating cadet's name.
The watch really set me back on my heels. It was a twelve-size Howard, which was arguably the finest pocket watch ever made in America. The case was eighteen-karat yellow gold, hunter style with the crystal cover and in perfect shape.
On the back of the watch was engraved:
To First Lieutenant Xxxxxxx X. Xxxxxx,
Upon Graduation from the
United States Military Academy
Class of 1916
To A Satisfactory Son
I had to read the last line again … "To A Satisfactory Son."
Later, I came to understand that the cadet’s Mom & Dad were so incredibly proud of their son that they could not describe their feeling with mere words.
After all, this wonderful young man had excelled to a degree that was well beyond what any reasonable parents could ever expect. And he’d worked for four long years at West Point, scoring high enough in his class to be commissioned a First Lieutenant in the Army.
Sometimes words fail.
I suspected that the long-haired youth who was trying to sell me the watch and the ring had stolen them. His story was that he'd inherited them from his grandfather, who was a local medical doctor. Anyway, the stuff didn't mean squat to him and he just wanted to sell it. He told me that it would be fine to call his mom, just in case I suspected the items were stolen.
His mother happened to be a good customer of ours, so the call was friendly. She told me that her son had inherited the ring and the watch from her father, the doctor. Further, that nobody in the family particularly wanted them, so it was fine with her if the kid sold them.
She went on to tell me that the ring and the watch had been given to her father’s cousin by his loving parents. She was aware of the fact that the cousin had graduated from West Point and he’d left a lot of personal effects, including the ring and the watch, with his parents when he shipped out to fight in World War One.
And he was KIA ... killed in action.
Tears welled up; Steve kills big furry critters, but part of him is a big old softy.
To make a long story mercifully short, I paid the kid about three times gold scrap value for the ring and $200 for the watch.
I kept the watch and the ring for a couple of years. It seemed inconceivable to me that anyone could sell such a family treasure. I vowed that if any of the family came into our store, wanting to buy back the watch and the ring, I would simply sell them back to the family member for what the articles cost me.
Nobody ever came.
Meanwhile, I enjoyed the pieces of history. Every time I popped open the hunter case and looked at the Howard's enamel dial, it was like I stepped back seventy years in time. And, in looking at the engraving, especially the "To A Satisfactory Son;" well, to me the words always related a special love between parents and an exceptional young man.
On a sad note, every time I read those words, I secretly wished that my own father had considered me a satisfactory son … but this was never to be.
A Permanent Home for the Ring and the Watch
I guess I always knew that it would be my responsibility to find the proper home for the watch and the ring. Eventually, I called the US Military Academy and asked to talk to someone in their museum. A very nice young man answered and he was thrilled when I told him about the Howard watch and the USMA ring.
When I offered them to him, he guardedly asked "How much?"
I said, "It would be my total privilege to donate the ring and the watch to the USMA Museum. This young man, this ‘Satisfactory Son' gave his life for our freedom. How could ANYONE sell these wonderful pieces of history?"
At that, the young man was silent. He did not speak. The phone was silent for a couple of minutes. I was beginning to think that he just thought I was a crank and put me on hold.
Finally, he came back and said, "How can we possibly thank you? This is literally beyond anything I've experienced here."
I told him that no thanks were needed; I just needed a proper address and I'd drop the watch and the ring in the mail.
He gave me the address and asked me to send them in care of him, so he could truly appreciate the additions to the USMA Museum. I mailed the package to him that afternoon.
About a month later, I received a really nice “thank you letter” from the Head Curator of the USMA Museum. They loved the items and would put them in a proper display of WWI items.
Also enclosed was a long letter of thanks from the young man on the phone. In the letter, he told me that he was an upper classman and that he would be graduating from West Point in a few months.
The cadet told me that his father had been killed-in-action in Viet Nam and it was by his father’s sacrifice that he had been allowed into the United States Military Academy. He wrote that, without pride, he was in the top ten-percent of his class ... and he prayed to God that HIS father considered HIM to be a "Satisfactory Son."
I wrote back: “There is no doubt in my mind that your father, that martyr for our American freedom, is in Heaven and looking down upon you right now … And he absolutely considers you to be A Satisfactory Son.”
A Reflection on Stewardship
In looking back over the three decades since I bought the United States Military Academy ring and the Howard watch, I’ve never regretted the donation to the USMA Museum. In my mind, they were never truly mine to own. Indeed, there was never any other choice BUT to donate those incredible pieces of history and of sacrifice.
If I had kept the items, only I would have enjoyed them. And if I’d sold the pieces, the buyer alone would have gotten pleasure from the ring and the watch and I’d have eventually spent the money on something considerably less meaningful.
As I saw it, the only right choice was to donate the ring and the watch to a facility where they would be enjoyed by the public for all perpetuity. Eventually, I decided that the perfect place for the items was the United States Military Academy Museum.
I always intended to visit the USMA Museum, just to see the First Lieutenant’s ring and watch permanently and properly enshrined. Reality seldom equals our dreams, however, so maybe it’s just as well that I never made the effort to travel there.
After three decades, I really don’t know why I even bother to think about the watch and the ring. After all, I never really owned them. Indeed, we really never “own“ anything … we are only stewards of the physical things that we acquire.
We are made richer only when we see that physical things that are temporarily in our possession are properly used and then passed on for others to enjoy.
A Closing Thought
I believe that there are no coincidences; that there are no accidents, and that our existence on earth is not guided by mere chance. We are not pawns, set adrift in a life of randomness.
Further, I believe that God carefully weaves situations, opportunities and problems into our lives. He does this because He wants us to learn patience, tolerance and love; He wants us to become better people.
The real meaning of life is the love we share, the love that we selflessly give and the lives we touch in a positive way. That is the only heritage we truly leave behind.
Nothing else is important.
May God Bless All of You,
A couple of months ago, Karen and I were making our monthly Costco shopping trip. Of course, our shopping experience at Costco always involves grazing our way through a bazillion food sample kiosks.
We were waiting in line at one of the food vendor stands when I recognized the lady standing in front of us. She’s a member of our Catholic parish and I’ve always admired her devotion to God. For her privacy, I won’t mention the lady’s name here … let’s simply call her “Mary.”
When it was her turn at the food kiosk, Mary took a food sample and walked several steps away. She stopped in a place where there were no people. It was then that I saw Mary enter into a private prayer … and it was as remarkable as it was simple.
Mary closed her eyes for a moment and, after that, she slowly did the Sign of the Cross while silently mouthing the words, “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
Then, she delicately and prayerfully put the tiny portion of food in her mouth.
As Mary did her short prayer, I thought to myself, “That’s absolutely beautiful. She truly gives Thanks to God for even the smallest of favors. In a moment of silence and prayer, Mary has given incredible witness to our Catholic faith.”
It was obvious that Mary wasn’t just eating. Instead, she was accepting a tiny gift from God and she was thanking Him for it.
A few moments later, Mary walked by Karen and me and I said, “That was beautiful … I totally understand.” At that, Mary grinned widely and she continued her shopping.
Interestingly, and wonderfully, Mary’s Sign of the Cross and short prayer at Costco was not an isolated event. I’ve seen her momentary prayers many, many times at parish functions. At a recent parish social, Mary “crossed herself” at the beginning of her meal and at the end … and two more times during a conversation with what appeared to be a close confidant.
My friends, I believe we can learn a lot from Mary and her approach to prayer. Yes, we all celebrate the Holy Mass and we do all sorts of “official” Catholic prayers. Mary does all of that, but she does more … much more.
Mary recognizes the many gifts that God gives us every single day. And whenever she is given a Grace, she acknowledges it and prayerfully gives God a heartfelt ”THANK YOU.”
I propose that we follow Mary’s example.
If we only open our hearts a little wider, I believe that we’ll be able see God’s many gifts as Mary does. If we can do that, and if we can incorporate her momentary prayers into our everyday lives, I truly believe that we will be able to grow infinitely closer to God.
And that’s gotta be a really, really good thing. Right????
May God Bless You.