Forsaking Everything and Receiving More Besides

Church of Holy Comforter St. Cyprian. Photo credit: C. Pope

In the Gospel for Sunday’s Mass, we read this funny story about Peter that speaks to the paradox of losing one’s life only to find it more abundantly:

Peter began to say to Jesus, “We have given up everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age:  houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come. But many that are first will be last, and the last will be first” (Mark 10:27-31).

Every priest knows well the paradox of these verses. Each of us gave up being the father of children and yet thousands call us Father. We gave up the bride of our dreams and yet have the most beautiful and perfect bride: the Church. She is indeed beautiful but has a long “honey do” list! As for buildings and land? We don’t have our own homes on a parcel of land, but we oversee multimillion-dollar buildings, often occupying an entire city block or a country acre.

Talk about receiving back a hundredfold! I don’t have a house of my own with a great room, but you ought to see the “great room” where I live! It seats 800 people and has a 35-foot ceiling of arches with a painted firmament with gold leaf stars; it has marble floors and a frescoed clerestory! You ought to see the windows, all works of stained-glass art. Yes, it is a glorious space, and at the center, the Lord of the universe is tabernacled under a glorious baldachino!

Every priest knows the richness of his life in terms of buildings and land, but above all in people—in family. Such is the paradox of losing one’s life only to find it even more richly.

I think that God has a certain sense of humor about this as well and must have Himself a good laugh as we begin to realize the paradox.

I remember once, back when I was considering the priesthood, it occurred to me with some relief that at least I wouldn’t have to worry about losing my job or keeping a roof over my family’s head. Hah! God must have had a good laugh over those thoughts. I had a chuckle myself as I signed checks a few years ago totaling more than $300,000 just to replace the roof on our school. Somehow, we survived just fine financially; next come the boilers and other big-ticket items. I just can’t avoid a smirk and an eye roll when I think back on my once-naïve notion of the financial ease of being a priest. What was I thinking? Becoming a priest added at least two zeros to my financial world and all the headaches (what Jesus calls persecutions) that come with such large numbers.

But God has been good to me, so very good. In losing my own personal family I gained God’s family. In setting aside something lesser, I obtained something greater, far greater than I could ever have imagined. I forsook the rich blessing of marriage and family only to be astonished at the even larger family that would be mine.

Somehow for all of us the paradox rings true. When we lose our life to this world in some way, God has even greater things waiting. My mother set aside the more lucrative salary of a public-school teacher in order to teach in a Catholic school, but by her own testimony she got back more than she ever gave up. I know another woman who left a six-figure salary to be a stay-at-home mother. The beautiful and holy title of Mom meant so much more to her than her former executive title.

In losing our life we find it. Yes, while the full impact of this will only be seen in Heaven, many of us experience this truth even in this life. St. Paul expressed the rich tapestry of the paradox best of all. Looking to his own life and the lives of those who accompanied him, he could only marvel as he said,

We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything (2 Cor 6:8-10).

Yes, all is lost, but all is gained. Some is gained even right here in this world, as a kind of foretaste, but one day all will be gained beyond measure. Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matt 10:39). Yes, Lord, and we will find it in abundance! Thank you, Lord.

What is your story of losing your life to this world only to find it more abundantly in the Lord?

Marriage and family are wonderful gifts. That some are called to forsake them for the kingdom points to the depth of the sacrifice, but the return is priceless.

On the Loss of Humor in a Very Serious Age

One of the more irritating and sadder characteristics of our times is that we seem to have lost our collective sense of humor. Our ability to laugh at ourselves appears to be gone, replaced by “frowny-faced” political correctness; there are seemingly endless rules about what can be said about whom, when, where, and using what terminology. On college campuses, young people demand “safe zones,” where nothing can be said that might cause them to feel “unsafe.” In media circles, outrage is a commonly expressed reaction to what used to be called ordinary disagreements.

We are too easily hurt and take offense in these thin-skinned times. We like to think we are more enlightened and sensitive than our boorish forebears (we’re allowed to scorn them because they’re dead), but I suspect the problem is more rooted in pride. The capacity to laugh at ourselves is referred to as “humor” and humor has the same root as “humility.”

In his Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas posed the following question: Whether there is a sin in lack of mirth? He answered as follows:

In human affairs whatever is against reason is a sin. Now it is against reason for a man to be burdensome to others, by offering no pleasure to others, and by hindering their enjoyment. … Now a man who is without mirth, not only is lacking in playful speech, but is also burdensome to others, since he is deaf to the moderate mirth of others. Consequently, they are vicious, and are said to be boorish or rude, as the Philosopher [Aristotle] states (Ethic. iv, 8) (ST, II, IIae, q. 168).

St. Thomas is careful not to make mirth an absolute virtue. He does not envision a foolish running off at the mouth and indiscriminate mirth at the foibles and qualities of others or groups. Thus he adds,

[However], it follows that “lack of mirth is less sinful than excess thereof.” Hence the Philosopher says (Ethic. ix, 10): “We should make few friends for the sake of pleasure, since but little sweetness suffices to season life, just as little salt suffices for our meat.” (Ibid).

In other words, mirth is a virtue to be had in moderation. A little salt goes a long way; a lot of salt will likely raise blood pressure. St. Thomas is not affirming hurtful or harsh humor here.

I would argue that today we do not have moderation. Rather we exhibit a prudish, hypersensitive fretting about every offense, perceived or actual. In a word, we are “uptight.” We have become all too precious and fragile, like snowflakes. There are a lot of party-poopers around today; they frown at any levity and take offense at every insight that suggests we human beings are funny, inconsistent, predictable, and just downright silly at times. Stereotypes can be funny because they contain an element of truth. It is not that there are no exceptions, but they are generally observable. They make the simple observation that group dynamics exist in the human community.

Why can’t we just have a good laugh at some of our foibles and admit that there is at least some truth in how others see us? The most straightforward answer is that it is because we lack humility. A second reason is that we engage in “identity politics,” in which our political positions are based on the interests of a group with which we identify. Hence, even if we could laugh at a joke made at our own expense, we do not feel free to laugh at any “insult” to the larger group. All of this is a subset of the “tyranny of relativism” and subjectivism, in which the truth is a matter of opinion rather than an external or objective fact; the locus shifts from the object to the subject. In this environment, if you find humor in or disagree with an observable object, you are laughing at or disagreeing with me. Thus enters the phenomenon of taking everything personally. Too many people have become narcissistic, boring, fragile snowflakes. Some become so angry at mere mirth that they threaten lawsuits; they seek to silence anything that they perceive to be “hurtful” (and they are easily hurt). St. Thomas well describes this sort above: [They are] burdensome to others, by offering no pleasure to others, and by hindering their enjoyment. … Consequently, they are vicious, and are said to be boorish or rude.

This does not mean we should give blanket approval to every form of humor. Poking fun at our quirkiness is one thing, but ridicule, demeaning talk, derision, and racial/ethnic scorn are quite another. As is the case with most things, moderation is key.

The ability to laugh at ourselves is a sign of security and trust. Security and trust anchor us in God’s love. We are funny and we are quirky, but we are loved.

Here is a video that pokes a little fun at our Catholic identity. When I posted it some years ago, about 25 percent of people took offense, saying that he was belittling sacred things. I think he was merely celebrating the fact that we are distinguishable by our traditions. He’s poking a little good-natured fun at our Catholic culture. Lighten up and watch Deacon Dan, whose car dealership is at the end of Water St., right before it turns in to Wine!



Here’s another celebration of being Catholic, by Justin Stroh:

What Is the Shortest Distance Between People?

blog-11-13It has been said that the shortest distance between two people is laughter. There is something strangely intimate about laughter. Indeed, it is an intimacy that can often break through many divisions. Upon hearing a joke, even enemies can laugh and share a moment of intimate and mutual joy, or at least mirth.

Watch this video and consider how complete strangers share a kind of intimacy through laughter, and how laughter is contagious. “I dare you to watch this and not feel a certain intimacy with the people in the video!”

And Out You Go: Why Does Going to Church Make So Many Faint?

In my over 21 years as a priest and even longer in serving in some capacity at the Holy Liturgy I have seen more than a few people faint. Some just slump over, others go over with a real bang. Weddings are a big source of fainting spells but just about any long Mass can produce its share of a “lights out” experience. Last year I was serving as First Assistant Deacon for a Pontifical Solemn High Mass in the Basilica and prior to the Mass we predicted at least some one would pass out. It’s usually one of the torch bearers since they have to kneel on the marble for so long. Sure enough right at communion time, one of them went over, torch and all. It wouldn’t be a valid solemn  High Pontifical Mass if at least one didn’t pass out!

OK, so what’s going one here? Are people overwhelmed by the presence of God and then just “rest in the Spirit?”  Well, that’s a fine thought and I perhaps I should just stop the article here out piety. However, beyond the this holy thought there are probably other explanations.

  1. It could be the heat in some churches which causes dehydration. Dehydration then causes there to be a lower volume of blood which causes the pressure to drop and makes it harder to get the blood to the brain and out you go.
  2. Anemia – Some  women have borderline anemia especially at certain times of their cycle and this reduces the number of red blood and thus reduces the ability of the blood to deliver oxygen to the brain and, especially after standing a while or getting a little dehydrated,  out you go.
  3. Stress – In order to maintain proper blood pressure there must be a proper balance between two chemicals: adrenaline and acetylcholine. Adrenaline stimulates the body, including making the heart beat faster and blood vessels narrower, thereby increasing blood pressure. Acetylcholine does the opposite. Fainting can happen when something stimulates the vagus nerve and causes too much acetylcholine to be produced at the wrong time. Pain can do this, so can “situational stressors” such as something like  seeing blood or just prolonged stress that often happens at funerals or weddings. Such things cause too much acetylcholine to slow the heart, dilate the blood vessels, pressure drops more than it should, blood can’t reach the brain and out you go.
  4. Standing  for a length of time can also cause the blood to collect a bit in the lower legs. The movement of the blood back from the limbs is assisted by the movement of those limbs. I was always taught never to lock my knees when I was standing since this slowed blood flow and made blood accumulate in the legs. More blood in the legs means less blood that can go to the brain and out you go. It is important when standing to slightly bend the knees a bit and to allow for some movement of the legs by shifting your weight. This improves circulation and keeps the pressure at a proper level to get blood up to the brain. The same is true with kneeling.
  5. In some cases low blood sugar can cause one to faint. The brain requires blood flow to provide oxygen and glucose (sugar) to its cells to sustain life. Hence excessively low blood sugar can cause one to feel drowsy, weak and in some cases to  faint, especially if some of the other factors are present. Hence if one has been fasting (rare today!) before communion and also has a tendency to be hypoglycemic it is possible one can faint.

There are surely other causes, (some of them very serious but more rare) but let this suffice. It would seem that Masses and Church services are over-represented in the fainting department due to any combination of the above, especially: stress, dehydration, and standing or kneeling for long periods.

It is surely a weird experience to faint. I have done it a number of times related to an asthmatic cough I often get. When an extreme coughing episode ensues the rhythm of the heart is disturbed, blood pressure drops and out you go. It is a very strange experience to just see everything fade to black, the lights just go out and sometimes I can even feel myself falling but can do little about it. I just hope I fall gracefully 🙂  I usually come to a moment or so later but it is strange to say the least. Our brains go only go without blood (oxygen) for a few seconds before unconsciousness envelopes and out you go.

We are wonderfully, fearfully made to be sure. And yet we are earthen vessels, fragile and in need of delicate balance. We are contingent beings, depending on God for every beat of our heart, and His sustaining of every function of every cell of our body. Maybe fainting in Church isn’t so bad since it helps keep us humble and that is always a good “posture” before God. Maybe before the immensity of God it is good to be reminded of our fragility and dependence upon Him for all things, even the most hidden processes of our body.

Enjoy this video of Church faintings and consider well that “To be absent from the body is to be present to God.” (2 Cor 5:8)

The Prodigal Son in F Major

You may well have seen this elsewhere. There are several versions floating around. But here is the story of the Prodigal Son stick on the letter “F”

Feeling footloose and frisky, a feather-brained fellow forced his fond father to fork over the farthings and flew to foreign fields and frittered his fortune, feasting fabulously with faithless friends.

Fleeced by his fellows, fallen by fornication, and facing famine, he found himself a feed-flinger in a filthy farmyard. Fairly famishing, he fain would have filled his frame with foraged food from fodder fragments . “Fooey! My father’s flunkies fare finer,” the frazzled fugitive forlornly fumbled, frankly facing facts. Frustrated by failure and filled with foreboding, he fled forthwith to his family. Falling at his father’s feet, he forlornly fumbled, “Father, I’ve flunked and fruitlessly forfeited family favor!”

The farsighted father, forestalling further flinching, frantically flagged the flunkies to fetch a fatling from the flock and fix a feast.

The fugitive’s fault-finding brother frowned on fickle forgiveness of former folderol. But the faithful father figured, “Filial fidelity is fine, but the fugitive is found! What forbids fervent festivity? Let flags be unfurled. Let fanfares flare”

And the father’s forgiveness formed the foundation for the former fugitive’s future faith and fortitude.

All Creatures of Of God and King

I would like to continue the theme of yesterday’s blog which is “wonder and awe.” Too often we simply refuse to see God’s glory on display all around us.

In the animal world I have always marvelled to see a majestic horse run, or a cheetah reach speeds of almost forty miles an hour. I could never be a hunter, for I marvel at the life in every creature. A deer or majestic stag could never draw fire from me. I respect their glory too much. I do not mean to say that hunting should cease, I am only going to say I could never do it (unless I suppose I was starving). Some one said, “Well you eat meat and an animal had to die for that.” I know but I cannot bear to think of it.

For me, sentient life is too mysterious, too wonderful for me ever to personally end it. I remember once running over a possum and being sad for days. I understand that there is a circle of life and death but just don’t ask me to pull the trigger. Life is mysterious and wonderful.

I have immensely enjoyed the pets which have been my life, Prince, the majestic dalmatian dog of my youth, Little Missy the stray who adopted us in college years, Molly, the unflappable border collie who stole our hearts, Tupac (yes, Tupac) the Chartreuse Blue Cat who became the rectory clown at my last parish. And now my current pet, Daniel, a Blue (i.e. gray) cat who is my “kidda.”  I have deeply grieved the loss of every pet as I had to bring them to the vet for that “last time.”

Each of my pets was a great gift from God and I was able to marvel in some aspect of God’s glory. And, might I say, in God’s humor. If your will to see it, pets can be hilarious. My dalmatian Dog could actually smile. Collies and Dalmatians can do that. My cat Tupac would often sleep flat on his back with all four legs spread apart! What a clown!

I want to show you two videos that show the glorious humor that animals can bring. The first one is of the amazing Bird, “Snowball” who can dance. And I really mean it, The bird can dance, you’ll be amazed. The second video is of the crazy antics of house cats, what a bunch of clowns! And as you watch be sure to thank God who provides such a rich harvest of glory and humor for us. Thank you Lord!


Crazy Cats ContinuedMore amazing videos are a click away

Catholicism and Car Sales

OK Y’all, there’s been some heavy weather here on the blog of late and it’s time for a little humor. The following video is a little glimpse into the humorous culture of Catholicism.

I want to say that I sometimes feel like the Deacon salesman in this video as I try to get people back to sacraments and regular Church attendance! I also remember that, some years ago, in the Catholic Standard, our Archdiocesan Newspaper, a certain Deacon who was also a car dealer used to advertise each week. He loved to point out that he was a permanent Deacon at such-and-so a parish. There was more than a hint in his add that he had a special deal for practicing Catholics: An outrageously low price for a new or used car! Just bring a Church Bulletin and get the discount!  Hey,  why not. I think if I’d been in the market for a car I might of just paid him a visit!

Anyway, enjoy this rather humorous and well done video.