Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Another Countdown


Everybody should know the words by now. Celebrate safely and responsibly.

My wishes for you are for the best, always and all ways.

Happy New Year!

Reflection On This Last Day

Go Forward.

It has been my mantra for the past four years.

The question remains, however.

Have I?

Am I a better person today than I was when I first made this my motto? Have I regressed? Am I treading water?

I realize I can be too introspective and not live life. I am also a firm believer the unexamined life is not worth living. And the phrase "let go and let God" are still merely words to me, despite the personal events of the past few years demanding just that.

People say I have a strong faith. Are they seeing someone who exercises religiosity or whose belief is firmly grounded? More often than not I am more like the rich young man or the Prodigal Son. I wonder sometimes if the words of the tax collector (the basis of the "Jesus Prayer") are even sounding hollow and shallow.

Perhaps, then, I am not moving at all. Paralyzed by fear, despair, and despondency. Seems like I want to feel like I have been victimized. But then, I am reminded of the words of Cassius in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves."

Yes, I am extremely hard on myself. Charles M. Schulz, the creator of the comic strip "Peanuts" once said through his wisest character, Linus Van Pelt, "The greatest burden is great potential." Realizing my potential has always been my heaviest cross. Deep down, I know I am not living up to what God created me to be. Have this unfulfilled actuality finally crushed my spirit? Do I really want to quit on God as well as me?

No. Not by a long shot. And, as I remember a letter from a distant relative written almost three decades ago, quitting is not part of my DNA. Nor should it be a part of anyone's:

Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.

Pope John XXIII
Something inside is still alive. Maybe on life-support, but still there. (I think it's called grace.) This is just a time where everything is still being questioned. I just need to learn Jesus Christ is the answer. And believe.

2009 comes. Only God knows what will happen. Only He will bless me as He sees fit. I just need a new pair of eyes.

See you when the calendar page turns.

Breaking The Silence: Part II

When last we left our intrepid wanderer, he was beginning to settle into his new digs.

One inquiring mind was curious:
So, tell us what you are doing in Utah...sounds like a big move for something.
As ABC radio personality Paul Harvey would say, "And now...the rest of the story."

Cha, Cha, Cha, Cha, Changes

While I had mentioned I spent a fortnight here already, three questions were immediately begging to be answered:
  1. Where's the cooler temperatures? (It's been about ten degrees warmer on average here than in Mankato.)
  2. Where's the humidity? (The Metro Salt Lake City area is in a desert.)
  3. Where's the oxygen? (At 4,226 feet above sea level, I had experienced about a 3, 200 foot raise in elevation, thus the thinner air.)
I have adjusted to these new demands on my physical being. The next adjustment was my living arrangements. For the first time in almost a quarter century, I was living with other human beings under the same roof. When your only roommates for so long other than myself was me and I, remembering your P's and Q's becomes a priority. I am making sure I contribute to my upkeep by helping about the household in whatever manner I can. In fact, there is a list of household projects which are being tackled. There is no timetable for their completion; just working on them little by little is the goal.

The biggest change was to my community. This is the first time I have lived outside the states of Iowa and Minnesota. I knew I had a long way to go when I asked after a few days why there were so many ward houses around.

I don't think you are in the Midwest anymore, Ron.

The More Things Change...

The first order of business was to get connected to the high school officiating scene. While I was looking for permanent employment, I was hoping for some cash flow. Luckily for me, rules meetings for football, soccer, and volleyball were held a week after my arrival. I made connections with various officiating association and waited to see what would happen. A week after those meetings, I did my first contests--two girls' soccer matches. (Can you say "lack of conditioning"? I can.) Since then, while I am not as connected as I would like to be, I have had all the games I have wanted and have been able to continue all my registrations.

While I have been welcomed into the officiating community here, I had to conform to their system. First of all, as opposed to getting my own games for the most part, all scheduling is centrally controlled by the local officials' organizations. While they also battle with shortages, their system of rating officials insures the best qualified get placed on the proper games. They also insure training so one can move up the ladder. Secondly, contests, whether varsity or sub-varsity, start at 3:30 PM. It makes it very tough for officials to get there on time, especially those dealing with the traffic nearer to Salt Lake City. Finally, officials are paid using a voucher system or through an electronic payment system, a dramatic departure for someone who was used to being paid at the contest site. Oh, well; just another challenge to my money management skills.

The other connection I made was to the music ministry at my new parish. The first Sunday after my arrival I introduced myself to the Director of Music, who informed me of the first rehearsal of the choir. It is so nice to be able to sing with a formal choir in my own house of worship. I was quickly worked into the rotation of cantors. And what mixed choir doesn't need a good tenor?

Those two constants were welcome. Another wasn't.

...The More They Stay The Same

A Bedouin proverb says, "Change your location; change your luck."

Really?

There is another saying, "If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all."

I don't even have bad luck anymore.

While there have been more opportunities here, the results have been the same. Again, I have been looking at entry-level positions, hoping that my being in the workforce would be to my advantage. Again, nobody seems to be buying what I am selling--me. And I continued to wonder if I was doing the best job promoting me.

I can't say I have been totally unsuccessful. Late in October, 2007 I did accept a position to manage a "payday loan" store, a rather common sight in Utah. Three things, however, worked against me:
  1. This store required two people for it to run smoothly. I was alone.
  2. The administrative end of things--filing, organizing, paperwork--was well behind. While I enjoy doing that kind of work, it didn't seem I was making progress.
  3. It was a business which went against my principles. To me, people who utilize this show a sign of financial desperation. For me, one who has made due with very little income, I have learned to do without; it seems these people don't understand the gravity of their situation. While I understand why they exist, I was having a difficult time setting aside my personal integrity to do the job.
After almost a month of those things, I was literally starting to sour from the inside out. One could smell a vinegary odor from my body. The Monday before Thanksgiving, knowing someone was finally hired as the assistant, I returned to the district manager the key to the store. Another victim of an industry with a high rate of turnover.

Carrying On

While relieved to have left, I wonder what being there did for my self-confidence. Was it a case of learning to do what you love so the money would follow? Would I be ever be able to "just do anything" for a paycheck? It is not willing to compromise, or pride? (Are they one in the same?)

I was so shaken by this, it took a while for me to resume any kind of serious job hunt. Now, with the downturn in the economy and more people seeking fewer open positions, I am doubting even more my ability to market myself. It has always been a struggle for me to give a prospective employer what they want; I'm not so sure I have anything they need.

So, here I am. A week into the nineteenth month of my move here. Grateful to be alive. Very appreciative to have a roof over my head and meals on a consistent basis, thanks to my very gracious hostess. Managing my limited finances as well as ever. Settled, but not rooted.

How ironic I am living in a desert valley. It truly is a time of purification for me. The words of the prophet Jeremiah, spoken to me by a priest during a confession, come to mind:
For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare, not for woe! plans to give you a future full of hope. When you call me, when you go to pray to me, I will listen to you. When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, you will find me with you, says the LORD, and I will change your lot; I will gather you together from all the nations and all the places to which I have banished you, says the LORD, and bring you back to the place from which I have exiled you.

Jeremiah 29:11-14
The status quo is status quo.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas At The Gas Station

Another one of those anonymously written stories which float through the internet. Fedora doff to Catherine Garcia, who forwarded it to me. Content has been edited for clarity.

**********

The old man sat in his gas station on a cold Christmas Eve. He hadn't been anywhere in years since his wife had passed away. He had no decorations, no tree, no lights. It was just another day to him. He didn't hate Christmas, just couldn't find a reason to celebrate. There were no children in his life. His wife was gone.

He was sitting there looking at the snow that had been falling for the last hour and wondering what it was all about when the door opened and a homeless man stepped through. Instead of throwing the man out, George, Old George as he was known by his customers, told the man to come and sit by the space heater and warm up.

"Thank you, but I don't mean to intrude," said the stranger. "I see you're busy. I'll just go"

"Not without something hot in your belly," George turned and opened a wide-mouth thermos and handed it to the stranger. "It ain't much, but it's hot and tasty. Stew. Made it myself. When you're done there's coffee and it's fresh."

Just at that moment he heard the "ding" of the driveway bell. "Excuse me; I'll be right back," George said.

There in the driveway was an old '53 Chevy. Steam was rolling out of the front. The driver was panicked.

"Mister, can you help me?" said the driver with a deep Spanish accent. "My wife is with child and my car is broken."

George opened the hood. It was bad. The block looked cracked from the cold; the car was dead. "You ain't going in this thing," George said as he turned away.

"But, mister. Please, help...." The door of the office closed behind George as he went in. George went to the office wall and got the keys to his old truck, and went back outside. He walked around the building and opened the garage, started the truck and drove it around to where the couple was waiting.

"Here, you can borrow my truck," he said. "She ain't the best thing you ever looked at, but she runs real good."

George helped put the woman in the truck and watched as it sped off into the night. George turned and walked back inside the office.

"Glad I loaned 'em the truck. Their tires were shot too. That ol' truck has brand new tires...." George thought he was talking to the stranger, but the man had gone. The thermos was on the desk, empty, with a used coffee cup beside it.

"Well, at least he got something in his belly," George thought. George went back outside to see if the old Chevy would start. It cranked slowly, but it started. He pulled it into the garage where the truck had been. He thought he would tinker with it for something to do. Christmas Eve meant no customers. He discovered the block hadn't cracked, it was just the bottom hose on the radiator.

"Well, I can fix this," he said to himself. So he put a new one on. "Those tires ain't gonna get 'em through the winter either." He took the snow treads off of his wife's old Lincoln. They were like new and he wasn't going to drive the car.

As he was working he heard a shot being fired. He ran outside and beside a police car an officer lay on the cold ground. Bleeding from the left shoulder, the officer moaned, "Help me." George helped the officer inside as he remembered the training he had received in the Army as a medic. He knew the wound needed attention.

"Pressure to stop the bleeding," he thought. The laundry company had been there that morning and had left clean shop towels. He used those and duct tape to bind the wound.

"Hey, they say duct tape can fix anythin'," he said, trying to make the policeman feel at ease. "Something for pain," George thought. All he had was the pills he used for his back. "These ought to work." He put some water in a cup and gave the policeman the pills.

"You hang in there. I'm going to get you an ambulance." George said, but the phone was dead. "Maybe I can get one of your buddies on that there talk box out in your police car."

He went out only to find that a bullet had gone into the dashboard destroying the two-way radio. He went back in to find the policeman sitting up.

"Thanks," said the officer. "You could have left me there. The guy who shot me is still in the area."

George sat down beside him. 'I would never leave an injured man in the Army and I ain't gonna leave you." George pulled back the bandage to check for bleeding. "Looks worse than what it is. Bullet passed right through 'ya. Good thing it missed the important stuff though. I think with time you're gonna be right as rain."

George got up and poured a cup of coffee. "How do you take it?" he asked.

"None for me," said the officer.

"Oh, yer gonna drink this. Best in the city." Then George added, "Too bad I ain't got no donuts."

The officer laughed and winced at the same time. The front door of the office flew open. In burst a young man with a gun.

"Give me all your cash! Do it now!" the young man yelled. His hand was shaking and George could tell that he had never done anything like this before.

"That's the guy who shot me!" exclaimed the officer.

"Son, why are you doing this?" asked George. "You need to put the cannon away. Somebody else might get hurt."

The young man was confused. "Shut up old man, or I'll shoot you, too. Now give me the cash!" The cop was reaching for his gun.

"Put that thing away," George said to the cop. "We got one too many in here now."

He turned his attention to the young man. "Son, it's Christmas Eve. If you need the money, well then, here. It ain't much but it's all I got. Now put that pee shooter away."

George pulled $150 out of his pocket and handed it to the young man, reaching for the barrel of the gun at the same time. The young man released his grip on the gun, fell to his knees and began to cry.

"I'm not very good at this am I? All I wanted was to buy something for my wife and son," he went on. "I've lost my job. My rent is due. My car got repossessed last week...."

George handed the gun to the cop. "Son, we all get in a bit of squeeze now and then. The road gets hard sometimes, but we make it through the best we can."

He got the young man to his feet, and sat him down on a chair across from the cop. "Sometimes we do stupid things." George handed the young man a cup of coffee. "Being stupid is one of the things that makes us human. Comin' in here with a gun ain't the answer. Now sit there and get warm and we'll sort this thing out."

The young man had stopped crying. He looked over to the cop. "Sorry I shot you. It just went off. I'm sorry, officer."

"Shut up and drink your coffee." the cop said.

George could hear the sounds of sirens outside. A police car and an ambulance skidded to a halt. Two cops came through the door, guns drawn.

"Chuck! You OK?" one of the cops asked the wounded officer.

"Not bad for a guy who took a bullet. How did you find me?"

"GPS locator in the car. Best thing since sliced bread. Who did this?" the other cop asked as he approached the young man.

Chuck answered him, "I don't know. The guy ran off into the dark. Just dropped his gun and ran."

George and the young man both looked puzzled at each other. "That guy works here," the wounded cop continued.

"Yep," George said. "Just hired him this morning. Boy lost his job."

The paramedics came in and loaded Chuck onto the stretcher. The young man leaned over the wounded cop and whispered, "Why?"

Chuck just said, "Merry Christmas, boy. And you too, George, and thanks for everything."

"Well, looks like you got one doozy of a break there. That ought to solve some of your problems." George went into the back room and came out with a box. He pulled out a ring box.

"Here you go. Something for the little woman. I don't think Martha would mind. She said it would come in handy some day."

The young man looked inside to see the biggest diamond ring he ever saw. "I can't take this," said the young man. "It means something to you."

"And now it means something to you," replied George. "I got my memories. That's all I need."

George reached into the box again. A toy airplane, a racing car and a little metal truck appeared next. They were toys that the oil company had left for him to sell. "Here's something for that little man of yours."

The young man began to cry again as he handed back the $150 that the old man had handed him earlier. "And what are you supposed to buy Christmas dinner with? You keep that, too. Count it as part of your first week's pay." George said. "Now git home to your family."

The young man turned with tears streaming down his face. "I'll be here in the morning for work, if that job offer is still good."

"Nope. I'm closed Christmas day," George said. "See ya the day after."

George turned around to find that the stranger had returned. "Where'd you come from? I thought you left."

"I have been here. I have always been here," said the stranger. "You say you don't celebrate Christmas. Why?"

"Well, after my wife passed away I just couldn't see what all the bother was. Puttin' up a tree and all seemed a waste of a good pine tree. Bakin' cookies like I used to with Martha just wasn't the same by myself and besides I was getting a little chubby."

The stranger put his hand on George's shoulder. "But you do celebrate the holiday, George. You gave me food and drink and warmed me when I was cold and hungry. The woman with child will bear a son and he will become a great doctor. The policeman you helped will go on to save 19 people from being killed by terrorists. The young man who tried to rob you will become a rich man and share his wealth with many people.

"That is the spirit of the season and you keep it as good as any man."

George was taken aback by all this stranger had said. "And how do you know all this?" asked the old man.

"Trust me, George. I have the inside track on this sort of thing. And when your days are done you will be with Martha again." The stranger moved toward the door.

"If you will excuse me, George, I have to go now. I have to go home where there is a big celebration planned."

George watched as the man's old leather jacket and his torn pants turned into a white robe. A golden light began to fill the room.

"You see, George, it's My birthday. Merry Christmas."

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

2008 Christmas Card


Love in that stable was born
Into our hearts to flow;
Innocent dreaming babe,
Make me thy love to know.

Nativity Carol by John Rutter

May He Who is Love Incarnate bring you abundant blessings today and the coming year. May you know His peace and joy as you abide in His faith, hope, and love.

Merry Christmas!

2008 Christmas Eve Reflection

While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Luke 2:6-7
++++++++++

"There was no room for them in the inn."

For those of you who visit my infinitesimal corner of the universe, you can notice there are times when my musings pose a question. Sometimes the inquiry comes as a direct result of the subject at hand. There are other times, however, when my mind's eye sees something and is able to extrapolate a topic which the reader may or may not have considered.

It is these two verses of the Gospel proclamation from the Midnight Mass of the Feast of the Incarnation which grabbed my attention. It is the phrase I have set aside which provided the inspiration. It is from this where the question arises.

Those who profess to follow Jesus Christ probably ask a variant of this on a regular basis. Tonight, as we celebrate His coming into the world as one like us, it seems a perfect time to ask it again. I pose the question for your contemplation, more as an exhortation rather than an admonition.

How much room at your "inn", your heart, your core of your being, is there for the Christ Child?

I offer some ideas as you ponder this.

Infinite, Eternal Love is here. We, who were made in the image and likeness of God, have that same capacity and potential--to love without limits. Do we even begin to grasp that possibility? While we can be aware of this infinite stature, we also are aware of our finite nature. And so, as the poet Robert Browning wrote, our reach exceeds our grasp.

So is the struggle to reflect the Light and echo the Word. While made "very good," the war within us wages. With the gift of free will, we are allowed to make our lives a choice between good and evil. We have that ability to be truly god-like, as obedient creatures of the Creator.

Sin, both Original and personal, have diminish that ability, much like the moon diminishing the sun during a solar eclipse. It is sin which displaces the room at the inn reserved for Him. In reality, since both are infinite and seeking to fill an infinite place, there can only be room for the One or the other.

The "Jesus Prayer" reminds us of our fallen state. St. John in his first letter also gently reminds us we are still sinners (i.e.--one who sins and is still capable of sin). The Word continually calls us to holiness, to perfection, to sanctity in our thoughts, words, and deeds committed or omitted. Examining our conscience should bring us from knowledge of our selves to Wisdom, striving to go beyond what the rich young man accomplished within the Law to live in Spirit and in Truth.

This is not meant to be an exercise in despondency. It is to acknowledge who we are and Who He is. It is to understand we all fall short of the grace of God. It is to know we need Him, for nothing can take His place, although at times nothing succeeds.

Nothing, however, can take the place of everything. The Alpha and Omega is that true everything. When we realize that, true conversion takes place. Only then can we begin to rid our inns of those things which take the space reserved for Him. Only then can the Light become brighter, for there is nothing which can cause shadows. Only then can the Word be clearly heard, for there is nothing which can cause distortion.

When He first came, there was no room for Him in the inn. He was assigned to a cave, placed in a feeding trough to sleep, surrounded by representatives of the original act of Creation. When He comes for the last time, He will claim all that is His. In between that first and last Christmas, we still will have our Advent. Our lives are that Advent, that time to "prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His paths" so "all mankind shall see the salvation of our God."

And with that Advent, there will always be Christmas.

There will always be room at the inn.

Hodie Christus natus est.

**********

My other Christmas Eve Reflections for your viewing:

2005
2006
2007

Advent Hymn Request

"Ero Cras" is the answer. Charles Wesley give us the words:
Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.

Israel's strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art:
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
born a child, and yet a king,
born to reign in us for ever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.

By thine own eternal Spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all-sufficient merit
raise us to thy glorious throne.
Are you ready?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Preparing The Way (Again)

I have no way of verifying this, but I would venture a guess and say that my posts on the "O Antiphons" are probably my most viewed and well-liked of any of my very humble musings.

For the past three years I have done my very small part in counting down the final days of Advent.

Once again I will present my small gift of meditations on this time of the year to St. Blog's and the world.

I will be adding something and modifying the format this year, but it's more a continuation of what I have done since these were first posted.

Look for them later.