Could Catholic leaders please listen to Francis?

Pope Francis is winning hearts and minds around the world for his emphasis on mercy, personal simplicity and vision for a church that is “bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets.”   He rejects culture-war Christianity and aloof moralizing from the safety of the sanctuary.  He warns that a fixation on “small-minded rules” can stand in the way of ministering to those on the margins.  A look at a few recent headlines shows that some Catholic leaders never got the memo from Pope Francis or tossed it in the trash.

A patient who suffered a heart attack at a Washington hospital recently told the Washington Post that a Catholic chaplain denied him last rights because he was gay.

Earlier this year, a Catholic middle school in Montana fired an unmarried teacher after she became pregnant.  The superintendent of Catholic schools for the diocese defended the decision with a cold legalism that would have made proud those letter-of-the-law Pharisees Jesus called to task.

Nothing sends a better “pro-life” message than kicking a vulnerable pregnant woman into unemployment, right?  The Catholic superintendent must have missed that part in Pope Francis’ groundbreaking interview with a Jesuit journal where he said:

“If the Christian is a restorationist, a legalist, if he wants everything clear and safe, then he will find nothing… Those who today always look for disciplinarian solutions, those who long for an exaggerated doctrinal ‘security’, those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists — they have a static and inward-directed view of things.  In this way, faith becomes an ideology among other ideologies.”

A Catholic priest in Missouri called a woman about to attend her mother’s funeral and told her he would not give her Communion at the Mass because she was in a same-sex relationship.  The parishioner had served as a lector, cantor and choir singer at the church for more than a decade.  (A lesbian in the Archdiocese of Washington experienced the same treatment in 2012.)

Pope Francis?

“The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”  he said in his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel.  In fact, the pope’s defining metaphor has been the need for the church to act like a “field hospital after battle,” as Francis describes it in vivid terms.  “It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugar!  You have to heal his wounds.”

When the Boy Scouts of America announced it would drop the ban prohibiting openly gay youth a priest in Northern Virginia swiftly kicked out his church’s Boy Scout troop.  “No more compromising with the devil,” the priest thundered as he denounced “perverted relationships.”

Paging the Holy Father.

“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” he told reporters on the papal plane after World Youth Day in Brazil.  In a lengthy interview with the Jesuit priest and editor Antonio Spadaro,  Pope Francis offers a lesson in humanity to clergy and other religious figures who reduce faith to ideology and rigid doctrine.

“A person once asked me in a provocative manner if I approved of homosexuality,” the pope said.  “I replied with another question.  Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?  We must always consider the person.”

And then there is Archbishop John Myers of Newark, a man who wants to retire in style.  The archbishop’s nearly 5,000-square foot vacation home is apparently not cushy enough for his tastes.  The Star-Ledger of Newark reports that a major new addition will include an indoor pool, three fireplaces and an elevator.  The half million dollar tab will be picked up by the archdiocese.

I’m afraid we’re going to have to call on that Argentine making trouble at the Vatican once again.

Pastors should be “close to the people…animated by inner poverty, the freedom of the Lord and also by outward simplicity and austerity of life,”  Pope Francis said in a speech to papal nuncios, whose job includes nominating bishops.  Bishops should not have, he insists, “the psychology of princes.”

Un-Christian behavior on the part of Christians is as old as Christianity itself.  Jesus had to remind the Pharisees again and again that their prideful defense of the letter of the law led them to defile the law’s spirit of justice, love and compassion.

Pope Francis has brought an unexpected season of renewal and hope for the Catholic Church not because he is a liberal or a conservative.  He is inspiring so many because he acts like a Christian should act.  Not a bad starting point for Catholic clergy and anyone else who tries to follow in the footsteps of Christ.

[ Our thanks to John Gehring, a former director for media relations at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.  (March, 2014, NCR Today) ]

Have I met God’s Expectations?

[This reflection is adapted from Marc Gellman’s response to a question he received,  Newsday, January 25, 2014.     Feel the weight lift as you bask in God’s loving care.]

Question:  What do you do when you’re entering the last quarter of your life and feel you haven’t met God’s expectations of you?

Thank you for one of the best questions I have ever received.  Your question already contains the seeds of the answer you seek.  You understand that God created you.  This is the most important spiritual truth you could possibly believe, and you already believe it.

The best definition I have ever heard of the ubiquitous word “spirituality” is “life lived in the presence of God.”  You’re already a spiritual person because you believe you’re living in the presence of God.  This means you already believe you’re not merely a material piece of meat and goo, but rather a being with a soul.  You understand that God has expectations for you in life.

You want a relationship with a personal God who cares for you, loves you and wants you to find and fulfill your unique blessings.  Because you love God, you want to please God but are worried whether you’ve done so by becoming the person God blessed you to be.

So let me ask:  What do you think a life pleasing to God would look like?  For the prophet Micah, all God wants of us is to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.  For Jesus, it was serving the least among God’s creatures (Mt 25, 35-41).  I  take the essence of both these teachings to be the value of humility in serving God, and you’ve showed great humility by your humble question.

Be patient.   The need is for spiritual  perseverance.   Time may or may not be running out for you, but what is true is that your spiritual journey and moments of concern will continue until God kisses you on the lips and takes your breath away.

Be patient with your journey and with your questions.  I have often quoted the poet Rainer Maria Rilke on this:  “I would like to beg you to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves…”   Your life is not a movie or novel where all the plot twists are worked out and resolved in the last frame or chapter.  Your life’s journey is your life’s destination.

The rabbinic commentary on the Book of Leviticus gives more comfort to your self-doubt:  “If a person uses broken vessels, it is considered an embarrassment.  But if God seeks out broken vessels for his use, as it says, ‘God is the healer of shattered hearts'”.

I also love the words of the poet Barbara Crooker, who wrote:  “For we are here not merely to bloom in the light, but rather, like trees, to be weathered:  burned by heat, frozen by snow, and though our hearts have been broken, still, we put out new leaves in spring, begin again.”

The truth of a humble and holy life is that every day you live, you enter a new springtime and a new way to serve God and all of God’s creation.

Break Out of Your Categories

For me, many decades of ministry have come and gone but — through challenging, sublimely rewarding, or very difficult times — the deep and overwhelming feeling of being free has never diminished.      I have come to know however that not every Catholic, let alone every person, lives their lives conscious of the personal freedom that God wants every moment for each of us.  These reflections I offer as an “urgent gift” — gift because this clear and direct spiritual path has been so helpful to me, “urgent” because I’m convinced that we are living in a time when so many of the usual “categories” ordering our lives seem to be failing.

Without asking for it, we are from our earliest days put in “categories”.  We are kids, students, girls, boys, young women or men, husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, parents, Protestants, Muslims, Jews, Catholics,  Americans, Germans, Hispanic, Republicans, Democrats, employees, plumbers, clerks, bankers, teachers, and so on.

We get used to being “just another one of…” whatever categories apply.  This is the first threat to our uniqueness.  We learn, of necessity, how to fit into each of our categories so as to succeed.  This is not of itself a bad thing; it helps us acceptably find our way.  The upside is when we grasp and assume the good, life-giving or maturing qualities of the category.   “American”:  freedom-loving, enjoy and respect my own rights and others’, many good possibilities, etc.   “Catholic”:  the revelation of God’s love, wisdom and caring in Jesus Christ, a unified community of believers, etc.   “Wives”:  creative, life-giving, wise, caring, etc.   “Bankers”:  guardians of our economic wealth, supportively funding new possibilities, etc.

The downside of belonging to so many of the categories in which we find ourselves seems in our day, however, to be dragging us down, destructively preoccupying our thoughts, creating anxiety and even anger.  For years, I and more learned others have discerned what might be called a “low-grade anger” which is frequently lurking just below the surface of most people’s daily lives.  What would rightly be seen as a minor event “scratches the surface of our lives” and provokes a cosmic reaction.  The other guy’s driving gets me cursing and gesturing my displeasure — interrupting an otherwise pleasantly normal conversation.  On the evening news, an extremely partisan political comment  leads to frustration, anger and upsetment — just the mood for a pleasant dinner together.  “Where’s the remote?  The thing is never where it should be!”    And let’s not even talk about the too frequent lack of patience with spouse, kids, or my other “loved ones”.

Those unsettling personal moments are nothing compared to the disappointment or disillusionment some have with the larger categories we inhabit.   “American”:  government and politicians are evil, no-good, and can’t be trusted.   “Catholic”:  the Pope/Bishops are out of touch but want to tell us what to do, all priests are child-abusers, I don’t need to go to Church to pray to God.   “Professionals”:  they just want our money and don’t know what they’re doing, etc.

Someone could be thinking at this point, “Granted, but my Father or Uncle or Aunt used to talk that way, so there’s nothing really new.”  May I suggest that perhaps they too didn’t live each moment conscious of their personal God-given freedom and worth?  Wonderful people no doubt, but defined and limited by the good and bad of the “categories” they lived in.  More importantly, in recent decades there has been a quantum leap in dissatisfaction with the “categories”, rules, institutions, authorities and structures of our lives.  Some may be due to a former naivete that they were better than they truly were, and now experience has made us more critical.  Maybe some categories or structures truly were better then; maybe they were always worse than we thought.

To offer an image:  “we must stay ON TOP of our lives“.  Instead, so often we do not feel “above” the fray, but driven this way or that and victimized by our and others’ weaknesses, problems, obligations, limitations, motives, stupidity, disappointments, hopes, fears, embarrassments, insecurity, duplicity, pretense, etc.  We permit ourselves to be pummeled and beaten down by what we might call all these “bullies”.  If we are pushed down low by life, we will never be free.  True, life is not neat; life is not a picnic — and it is never completely in my control.  But I can stand tall and LIVE MY LIFE, not let my life live me!

+ First Principle:   Beware of being created and determined by the categories or structures in which you live.  There is a free person, given life and accompanied every moment by God, and it is YOU.

When we speak about a “free person”, it raises another most important reality.  Each of us is responsible for her/his own actions.  Whatever action I do (or don’t do, if I should do it), the act, words, omissions are MINE.  Adults must never attribute their actions to bad influences of mother, father, spouse, teacher, buddy, etc.  My actions are mine.  Your actions are yours.  Everyone must “grow up” and accept that fact.  Further, spiritually, morally, and psychologically you or I are formed to be “who we really are” by our actions,  That’s what freedom really means:  we make our own lives.  When we live with this awareness and accept it “warts and all”, we should feel a deep sense of well-being and joy — because we are ALIVE, our own person, somebody!

+Second Principal:   Each of us is responsible for his/her own actions.

So at this point, I am in charge of living my life, aware that I am a free person, who takes responsibility for her/his own actions.  I am consistently (not obsessively) aware of trying to free myself from any destructive influences of my categories — and other negative forces or people as well as my own unresolved limitations.  I am trying to keep on top of my life, above the fray.  I am attentive but never worried, since worry accomplishes nothing but waste of time and energy on something that may never happen.  Rejoice!  This is how life is to be lived, so enjoy it!   God is always present, healing and incredibly more patient with us than we are with ourselves.  Breathe easily — omit the drama!

Generously embracing the third and final principal can and should change your life.  Amazingly, it will also put into concrete practice God’s two great commandments and all God’s advice:  “Love God with all your heart, soul and mind”, and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”   In addition, it will make you the most loved and admired person you can imagine.  You will always be welcome, anywhere.

Dictionaries describe “KIND” as caring, helpful, sympathetic.  The word “love” has become overused in our society   (“I LOVE my Buick!”).  Everyone knows what “kind” and “kindness” mean.  Have your car break down on a snowy evening with no one around except the “kind” stranger who stops to help you — and you know exactly what “kind” means!   Or the person who offers to give you a hand with something that isn’t fun.  Or the one who caringly notices “you look tired”.  Or the buddy who listens to your problems but doesn’t judge.

Spirituality and theology have always said that “love” includes all the other virtues.  Anyone taking responsibility for their actions is attentive to the demands of justice, truth, compassion, etc.  The Book of Wisdom says about God:  “You taught your people…that those who are just must be kind” (Wisdom 12:19).   This is not a “weak” virtue, but requires attention and strength.  We are speaking here of a conscious commitment that ALWAYS AND EVERYWHERE, I WILL BE KIND.   When you get time, reflect and imagine what it will require to be sincerely and appropriately KIND to each of the following:  spouse (at every age), fellow worker, my parents, my child, teacher or fellow parents at school, repairman, store clerk, another driver, friends, relatives, person on line at the market, a stranger.   What a sense of well-being — and a new appreciation of others — such love will bring us.  It’s not easy even to try to be kind all the time, and to everyone — “caring, helpful, and sympathetic”.  But what a marvelous person you’ll be, inside and out!

+ Third Principal:   Always and everywhere, I will be kind.

We have looked at three very significant areas for living a more happy life.  Each of us is a free person, given life and accompanied every moment by God — who sees our lives through our eyes and hears with our ears.  We are never lonely; we are always understood.   Part of enjoying and putting our freedom into practice is to take responsibility for our actions.  Then we will know at the end of each day that we have not lied, bullied or cheated our way into presenting a “phony self” — who, if we are not very honest, even I might start to believe is the real me.

Trying to be KIND, always and everywhere, takes life seriously and joyfully.  Every challenge, problem and relationship, with God and with everyone else, can be faced more peacefully with kindness.  “Caring, helpful and sympathetic” describes the best Christian — indeed, the best person.

Surprises Deserving Gratitude

After Thanksgiving, two columnists in our local newspaper brought attention to three valuable areas deserving thanks or attention — and I’d like to share them with you.  First, two important groups of people not on everyone’s “radar” for gratitude and prayers.

Be thankful for hospice workers.      I have buried too many people recently.  Most of them died in the care of hospice workers.  Their families wanted to care for them until their last breath, but this was almost always impossible.  The families could not stop their lives and their work to care for the dying, nor were they qualified to administer the palliative care and pain medications needed to ease their loved ones’ final agonies.  More than this, hospice workers provide strength, support and above all else, loving permission to let them go.

I have been with many dying people, and it always takes me time to recover from being in the presence of a soul as it separates from the body.  These holy hospice workers do this all the time, with sensitive and compassionate hearts.  I don’t know how they can protect their hearts, but I’m thankful they do.  They are angels sent to live among us so our souls can live forever near the God who sent them.

Be thankful for animal shelter workers.    Many of us eat our Thanksgiving dinner in the presence of beloved family pets waiting for us to drop a piece of turkey or stuffing near their imploring eyes.  But this Thanksgiving like every other, thousands of dogs and cats will watch the world through cages in animal shelters.  Their only contact with people who care about them will be shelter staff.

These workers do more than change the pets’ water and clean their cages.  They speak in comforting tones.  They make hopeful sounds.  They wordlessly remind these frightened and abandoned animals that life does not have to be this way forever.  They remind them that some people are better than those they’ve known so far in their harried and halting lives.

May we all become better.  May we rescue these pets and take them home to a life of hugs and dropped turkey, may we remember to thank the shelter workers who are busy caring for the new animals in their old cages.  If God ever judges us, may God visit an animal shelter first.”

And, for pet owners, an important New Year’s Resolution:

“Do your best to look at the world from your pet’s point of view.     If you have a small dog, cat or ferret, get down on the floor and look at how your pet sees its environment so you can understand why the animal does what it does.  Always remember that animals live for the moment and have no idea that what they are doing right now can cause any kind of consequences later.  The idea of them doing anything out of spite is alien to them.

I would say that 99 percent of all the issues we have with our pets’ behaviors is due to a lack of communication.  We as the more intelligent species must go out of our way to understand our pets’ way of thinking.”

[So, gratitude goes to “God Squad” columnist Rabbi Marc Gellman, and “Animal Island” expert Marc Morrone — with hope that we can respond with love and care.]

A Right to be Joyful?

Does each one of us have “a right to be joyful”?      Yes!   — next question.

Just kidding (about “next question”)!     But regarding our right to be joyful?   This is an absolute right, and it’s nothing to joke about.   Yet, especially during the recent Christmas season, we priests have heard a number of concerned and honest parishioners share that, for various reasons,  they “can’t seem to get in the ‘Christmas spirit'”.  But what about our absolute right to “joy”?

This is not just semantics, but we really must distinguish between “joyful” and “happy” (and maybe recognize even the different levels of “joy” itself).    [Let’s remember, our mutual goal here is to become as free as God wants us to be — and sometimes that can take a little “work” — and reflection.]

Happiness can come and go, even too quickly at times.  Joy should be with us always, and not subject to the “comings and goings” of our life:  changing circumstances, needs or wants, moods, the state of our own or our loved ones health or success, our personal losses, hopes and fears, tragedies or disappointments.  Christ was joyful even on the Cross; but no one is “happy” when he is suffering.    And we should never attribute some “lack of faith” if, because of personal problems or serious disappointments, I can’t get into “the Christmas spirit” or magically “forget” that sadness is at least for now, a part of my life.

God loves each of us unconditionally and totally and wonderfully — but let’s remember that we are living in a  “Redeemed, but unfinished world”!   There’s a lot to be done by everyone, everywhere before the full joy of our being loved, saved, redeemed, by Jesus is overwhelmingly and not just intellectually, but joyfully present

Happiness normally results when things I want, value and appreciate come together in a positive way.   Joy is deeper, foundational —  based on the reality and security of my loving relationship with God.  God never withdraws that union and love — even when we sin.  It is based on God’s unconditional and unending love for me, personally and by name.   Incredible –and humbling — but true.  Scripture says it in hundreds of ways.   When I am aware of and accept the truth of that deep and personal relationship, each of us has an absolute right to the JOY that it brings.

The normal result of that JOY for most people is inner peace.   Perhaps a deep awareness of the strength that I can indeed endure challenges, trials and tragedies because God himself is going through it with me at every moment.  Not even my incompleteness, weakness, sin, selfishness, or laziness can wipe out that Love and Presence.  Nothing can separate me from God and the JOY God wants me to feel at the heart of my being.

People differ so much from one another.  Some might feel a “warmth, or enthusiasm” from this joy; others cannot either because of their personal  temperament, or lack of having experienced it due to inadequacies in their family or personal history.   They still have the right to this joy but its gift can be diminished by a feeling of unworthiness or — as with so many truths related to God and me — “it seems too good to be true”!    God still wants each of us to come to know that, in one sense, it is indeed “too good” — undeserved and humbling — but it really is totally true!   If our sadness comes from the terrible things we hear on the news that are happening to others, we must trust God who loves them infinitely more than we do.

So could we say that, in a surprising but real sense, we should just “relax”?!  Take some moments and a couple of deep breaths to look underneath any “unhappiness” (though it may be at this time a terrible burden).  Remember that there is always in my life “JOY” — whispering, aflame, and waiting for me to let it burst forth and envelope me as God personally soothes my pain or anxiety.    “I can make it; this too shall pass”    A key part of my reality is God’s continuing assurance that “I have a right to JOY”.

Take Your Sacred Space With You

It is becoming more and more prevalent these days with those who are spiritually-minded to create a sacred space within their home.  They use a corner of a room and place candles or symbols, and sit in silent meditation.   However, I have to wonder if sacred space is really confined to a particular place that each of us has to go to in order to feel centered and peaceful.  Instead of going to it, why can’t it come to us?  Maybe sacred space could actually follow us around.  Wouldn’t it be nice?  Always feeling centered no matter where we are?

It all comes down to having an awareness of being surrounded by love and peace at all times — having a close connection to one’s soul, not just one’s physicality.  Take a look at the following techniques and see if you can create your own sacred space — wherever you are.

The  Bubble

Envision yourself inside a beautiful bubble of light.  This bubble can be iridescent, or white, or your favorite color.   Practice being in the sanctity of this cocoon.  Sit in it, walk around, do whatever you want to do, but remain in your imaginary pod.  Everything around you is happening as usual; however, nothing can come inside the sacred space of your bubble — no one else’s drama, no stress — because inside, you know that nothing can touch you.  Its energy transcends whatever you are doing.  All is peace, and love.

The  Magnet

As you go about your day, think of yourself as a human magnet.  The only situations and individuals that are attracted to you, and vice versa, are good, positive, and uplifting.  Everything else simply falls away.  The things that make you happy — that you want around you — are made of metal.  These wonderful people, places, and things are drawn to you and stick like glue.  All of the other stuff is just plastic.

The  Movie

Observe life as if you are watching a movie.  Which people form the main cast of characters?  Who are in the supporting roles?  Stand back and look around.  Is everyone acting their usual part?  Are the same little episodes playing our just as they have a thousand times before?  Be an audience member.  Does any of what is going on really involve you or can you detach from the scene?  Do you need to be a part of the action or is observing from an emotional distance a viable alternative?  Make a cameo appearance when it’s your cue; otherwise, just keep watching.

The Sound of Music

Yes, this is in fact a movie, but I’m not suggesting that you start watching it every day!  No, what I’m getting at here is the power of music to calm the mind and soothe the body.  Investing in a pair of ear buds (plugs) can be exactly what you need to create your portable sacred space.  Tuning in to relaxing music, or even total silence, and tuning out the rest of the world for a short while, may be just what your psyche ordered.  So when feasible, make quiet time for yourself anywhere you can.  Let go of all unnecessary noise around you.  Getting some real peace and quiet, even for a brief moment in the day, is extremely helpful in centering the self.

The  Walk

We all walk from here to there in the course of a busy day.  Make that time count as sacred time.  Be mindful of your body’s movement.  Feel your arms and legs cutting through the thickness of the air.  Ideally, find a way to walk outside as much as possible, even it it’s through the middle of a bustling city.  They say the fresh air does wonders for a person, and they’re right.

When away from city life, being surrounded by trees, water, rocks, birds, and grass, is healing in every way.   Let nature speak to you.  Listen to it.  Become a part of it.  Be open to the ancient teachings of growth, death, and rebirth — the cycle of life.  Walking on a tree-lined trail can feel like an outdoor cathedral, filling one with reverence and awe for the beauty of God’s creation.  Your cares and concerns will seem quite small, and you will find peace.

The  Commute

Whether you are driving back and forth from the office, soccer practice, or appointments; taking the train into town for the day; or flying for business or pleasure; there is useful quiet time there that should not be overlooked.  Traveling time that is spent alone can be “me time”.  Use those moments in the day to focus on your breathing, your positive thoughts, and your intentions.  Don’t think about work or what you have to do next.  Be present in those minutes or hours.  That time should be spent getting to know yourself, nurturing your connection with Spirit, and thinking of all the wonderful things for which you have to be grateful.

Make no mistake about it.  You can take your sacred space with you.  With practice, doing so will feel essential to your body’s DNA.  As each day passes, a sense of serenity will grow inside or you, until it profoundly transforms your everyday existence.  You will dwell in your personal sanctuary, and your personal sanctuary will dwell in you.  Connect to the energy of your soul by living in sacred space, and peace will be with you, always.

[ Our thanks to Donna Labermeier for this practical and profound piece on bringing our “sacred space” with us.  At the start of a New Year, could we make this our means of personal renewal?   Our “new self” would do wonders for all we meet in our daily life.]                                                                                                   

(,  “Huffpost Healthy Living”, 12/14/13)

Two True Thought-Stories

+ + + + +  Two groups of battleships were on maneuvers.  The weather was terrible, pea soup fog, high winds and seas.  The second night was worse.  The captain of one battleship stood on the bridge all night, wary of second hand reports.  He didn’t want to chance the battleships of the other group colliding with them in the open seas.  All night he checked on the dark sky and what could be seen.

Toward dawn an officer on watch yelled out, “Light on the starboard side, sir!”  The captain yelled back, “Is she steady or moving?”    A pause, then a reply, “Sir, she’s steady!”    “Send a message ASAP,” the captain roared,  “Change course 20 degrees immediately!”

The message was relayed and sent.  Then back came a reply on the radio that was passed on to the captain.  “Sir, they suggest you change course.”   The captain was furious.  He turned and yelled, “You tell them I am a captain and I’m ordering them to change course 20 degrees hard now.  Don’t those fools know we’re on a collision course?”

The message was sent.  Then the reply came back.  “I’m an ensign second class, and I suggest you change course now.”

The captain was near spitting and the light was fast approaching.  “Damn it, you tell them I’m the captain of a battleship and they’d better obey my orders immediately!”  The message was sent.  Back came a reply, “I’m a lighthouse.”   The battleship turned.

———-  If we are willing to listen, does God through church share truths which show us the “open channel” for clear sailing in our lives– helping us avoid the destroying shoals and rocks?    Doesn’t that make us more free?


+ + + + +  His name was Fleming, and he was a poor Scottish farmer.  One day, while trying to make a living for his family, he heard a cry coming from a nearby bog.  He dropped his tools and ran to the bog.  There, mired to his waist in black muck, was a terrified boy, screaming and struggling to free himself.  Farmer Fleming saved the lad from what could have been a slow and terrible death.

The next day, a fancy carriage pulled up to the Scotsman’s sparse surroundings.  An elegantly dressed nobleman stepped out and introduced himself as the father of the boy Farmer Fleming had saved.   “I want to repay you,” said the nobleman.  “You saved my son’s life!”     “No, I can’t accept payment for what I did,” the Scottish farmer replied waving away the offer.   At that moment, the farmer’s own son came to the door of the family hovel.

“Is that your son?” the nobleman asked.   “Yes,” the farmer replied proudly.   “I’ll make you a deal.  Let me provide for him the same level of education my own son will enjoy.  If the lad is anything like his father, he’ll no doubt grow to be a man we both will be proud of.”   And that he did.

Farmer Fleming’s son attended the very best schools and in time, graduated from St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School in London.   He went on to become known throughout the world as the noted Sir Arthur Fleming, the discoverer of Penicillin.

Years afterward, the same nobleman’s son, who was saved from the bog, was stricken with pneumonia.   What saved his life this time?   Penicillin.   The name of the nobleman?  Lord Randolph Churchill.   His son’s name?   Sir Winston Churchill.

————  Isn’t it amazing how things done out of just caring, or doing the right thing, will come back to make you proud, grateful.   We are all linked together in God.

[ A Blessed Christmas for you and your loved ones.  For a freeing theological reflection, follow our Archives to “Christmas: Plan B”, December 12, 2011]