TUMBLEWEED MOST HOLY

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Many adjectives have been added to tumbleweed (including Japan’s lovely PINK brand), but i don’t know how many have used “MOST HOLY?!” i do so today with the highest reverence and love.

When this man BLEW by me the other day in Central Park, i had, among many other thoughts and feelings, the most profound sense of deja vu. It took me
way way way back to the most defining period of my life and to a “darlin’ companion” i had there, and who stayed right by my side for many years after.
i wrote of this time in a previous post, an assignment i had as a young friar
priest in Amarillo, Texas. i was sent to teach young friars about St. Francis, and they had taken up residence within a Mexican Migrant Camp. This was not “my school” but theirs. i was not the “teacher,” but they, the Mexicans, the “little ones of God,” as well as their companions, about 5000 tumbleweeds!

In preparation for priesthood i had been through so much schooling…in so many different schools…but honestly NONE so important as theirs.

When i left West Texas to head back to New York, i reached out along the Rt.40 and grabbed one of those scraggly guys, those tumbling tumbleweeds, to be my mentor in life, i.e. to never let me forget my “university of life” and its wise “professors”, such gentle, humble people of faith and hope and love. That tumbleweed sat in the front passenger seat of my car (Lol, many drove by us gazing…) all through Oklahoma and Kansas and Missouri and Illinois and Indiana. He was my “heart” in the Heartland. Finally Ohio, Pennsylvania, and we were home…but only for a day or two, then off again to Buffalo, Niagara Falls, and through Canada to Detroit. Wherever i roamed after that, my tumbleweed came along. There were even many times that i took him to church with me, EVEN MANY TIMES when i shut up, sat back, and let the tumbleweed – in its simple profundity – deliver the sermon of the day. NO DOUBT THESE WERE MY VERY BEST HOMILIES EVER!!!
Hey, if you don’t believe me, here is an old photograph:010515124713-1 (1)

When the Holy Father, Pope Francis, blew by me and my son, Ben, and 80000+ others, the Wind of the Holy Spirit was under his wings. How often America saw those “wings” of his flying!!! Such a simple man and as free as the Great White Dove that sent him to us, his message was so clear and easy for everyone, even the littlest child, to understand. Wasn’t it basically that we are all just tumbleweeds, blowin through. A modern day St. Francis and St. Paul who said it best: “Not one of us has a permanent city here. We are all fellow citizens of the saints and of the household of God. We are pilgrims and strangers, each one a sojourner on earth, behaving ourselves here as citizens of there, the City of Heaven,” wherein we are all one family, are we not, brothers and sisters all? (Hebrews 11, Philippians 3…) This Pure White Tumbleweed Most Holy says it in every word and gesture, “We’re all just passing through here. Why not get together and support each other?!”

Pope Francis is the man of every city and town, while being NOT the man of any of those places. He is gone from our sight now, and who knows how many of us shall ever see him again??? But see him, we do, even now, in our hearts, where he lives because of that “heavenly connection.” His dear Francis of Assisi used to say, “If we love and cherish those who are our brothers and sisters in the flesh and blood, how much more profoundly ought we to love and care for those who are our family in the One Holy Spirit!?” That is what will shine through this New Francis every minute of every day that he remains on this earth.65245_495842887163679_385192233_n

If you Google tumbleweed, and add the word “explosion,” an image will arise that i saw very often. In many places so many tumbleweeds will congregate that they will literally cover a car or truck or house. Again in Central Park, hours before the Pope went winging by, i felt the deja vu, as i felt so so many arms and legs pressing against mine, waiting for him. We were just like one of those giant tumbleweed families, strangers linked intimately together in One Spirit – with a magnificent RAINBOW overhead, the VOICE OF GOD loud and clear, “I AM SO PLEASED!”

i don’t know whether the final count is in, as to how many times the Pope said, “I am a son of immigrants” or
“Don’t be afraid of foreigners,” but let’s suffice it to say that it is clear, by the rounding resounding applause each time, WE GOT THE POINT! (i’m not sure the Congress did???) And in hearing the Holy Father,we heard our other holy father, our very first one, George Washington, who told us even before we were born, “If you want to be a great and happy nation, you must always be an asylum for anyone in need, sharing the Divine Mercy we have so generously received!” i believe George, though he had not met one, knew in his heart the wisdom of THE GREAT AMERICAN TUMBLEWEED.

a little poem i wrote 30 years ago:

i’ve lived my life
in the shadow of a tumbleweed,
utterly simple yet profound,
fragile,
REAL,
greatest of teachers,
so quiet,
never in need of a word.
HOLY!
Stark pilgrim
blowing, ever blowing…
no citizen here.
Broken, so many times broken,
but still in possession of branches
to be broken once again,
ever so vulnerable,
CALL IT OPEN,
TRUSTING,
open to the Wind of God’s Holy Spirit,
Closest companion, brother,
Friend of All Friends,
never at home, except when linked to my brothers and sister weeds,
and OH! So Enjoying the Ride.100_7117-1

CIAO FOR NOW, BUT NEVER LOSE HOPE!

0529150745-1When i was very very young, i learned one of the oldest, silliest -and as i came to discover in life – most profound stories ever told. It came out of ancient Persia, the tale of a little bird trying to save his forest home from a raging fire. The bird kept flying to a nearby stream where, in front of a frog, it picked up a droplet of water, then flew back to drop it on the growing flames. On one trip the frog asked, “What do you think you are doing, you fool?” The bird simply answered, “I love our forest. I have to try.” Moments later, on the next rendezvous, the flames reached up and swallowed him.

Also when i was very very young, i came face-to-face with great misery – in the “City of Brotherly Love” of all places, my second home. On the sidewalks and park benches of Philadelphia i saw so many men and women sleeping under newspaper-blankets or in cardboard boxes. Later in life, when i had children of my own, i did not shield them from the misery. i took them to my Philly to see the Great America at its best and worst.  One of the classic American films was made there, of the classic American hero, Rocky Balboa. The ultimate scene took place in that very park with the hero refusing to give up, rather pushing himself way beyond his limit on the steps of the Museum of Art.

Rocky was Great, Rocky was So Inspiring – but Rocky wasn’t Real. But, my life has been so blessed to have a Real Rocky to call my friend, my brother, and in light of the Pope’s visit to my Philly, i want to now introduce him to my blog, knowing that he will be a frequent “guest” of this site, honoring it with his words and acts of inspiration. His real name is Gerry Thomas Straub, and to me he is the perfect example of all that Pope Francis has been talking about in America and around the world. The American Catholic Publishers’ Association agrees, declaring his book (now also his film), “The Loneliness and Longing of St. Francis,” to be perfectly in tune with the heart and the global mission of this People’s Pope, the Pope of Hope.

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My first encounter with Gerry-in-motion was in a mission of his to Africa, where his vehicle nearly ran over a tiny boy, whose almost lifeless body was lying in the dirt, starving. Little Sam was 7 but barely bigger than Gerry’s camera. The genuine loving anguish of this man, as he looked up from Sam, has haunted me every day since: “What are we gonna do?!” he said in a Prayer to God and a plea to his fellowmen,  the Persian bird all over again. This boy is my brother and my son, just as all of the other people at the margins of human society are. I don’t know about you, but “I HAVE TO TRY!”

Gerry Straub wasn’t always such a “brother.” Starting out in New York City he quickly shot up like a star in the television and movie world, one of the early producers of one of the all-time hits, General Hospital. Gerry was growing by the day in success and fortune – and utter emptiness. An avowed athiest visiting Italy in the mid-90’s, he came to encounter God through Francis of Assisi, who spoke to Gerry’s “lonely, longing spirit.” There was no time for weighty theological ramblings, but if Gerry wanted to meet God face-to-face, he simply had to join the Saint and his Lord where they live until Kingdom comes. It was like a “peekaboo, I see you!” And then he’s gone, but with the promise, “Find us again wherever the very, very poor dwell…” And so Gerry did – here, there, and everywhere, always with his camera running, capturing the Lord and Francis for all the world to see – in these dusty, hungry, bloated, dying, naked, wounded, bleeding, imprisoned, tired, but so often beaming bodies. All over the globe,  from Africa to South and Central America,  from the Philippines to Philadelphia!!!  Yes, Gerry’s faith, hope, love and camera truly confronted that misery which i had encountered so young. It always seemed so bleak to me, so very hopeless – til men like Gerry came to town. His documentary on the St. Francis Inn, where friars serve the hungry and homeless of Philly, led to donations of $250,000. Gerry seeks nothing. He has all that he needs in the Love and Mercy of God.

Oh, how ready was Gerry for the Holy Spirit’s Gift to the World in the person of Pope Francis. Gerry had already, for a long time, transferred from “General Hospital” to what the new Pope would announce on his Day One to be his “place in this world, namely, the Field Hospital of the world,” the ever-moving care for all of the wounded souls of the earth. Gerry was quite well established in that field-work by then, but the Coming of a True Shepherd has both sealed and strengthened his resolve and hope.

Gerry, being only human, often shares with me how uplifting but also how down-pounding it is, this mission. The severity of poverty and suffering he knows so well is at times so overwhelming, but he NEVER LOSES HOPE, he NEVER STOPS TRYING to make things better one sip of water, one cracker, one new shirt, or just one little smile at a time. So often knocked down himself, this New Yorker transplanted in RockyTown getsright back up with Grace.

i will bring my readers back many times to Gerry. For now i just want them to know that the Hope of the Pope is ALIVE and WELL because of people like my friend, Gerry Straub! You can learn so much more about my hero at his site, Pax et Bonum Comm.org. His movie about St. Francis – and Gerry’s own Conversion – is just now “hot off the press!”And his blog should be a part of every person’s “daily bread” to chew on.FrancisNewCoverV2 (1)

THE REAL TREASURE

0927150838The real highlight of my recent trip into New York City for a glimpse of the Pope was when my stepson, Benjamin, took me to his place of work. LOL! shall i confess that having stood in one spot for over four hours, i was in dire need of a bathroom!? And who has a nicer bathroom than Tiffany’s? Except maybe the neighbor, Mr. Trump.

Yes, my Benny works, among other places, at the famous tower of jewels! i had a funny feeling all throughout the day that he was eager to take me there, to show me the treasures, though he knows me well, he knows that i have zero interest in polished stones, other than how nice they look. But my precious stepson had no interest or plan to show off the Tiffanic jewels in all of the glass cases. He was eager to introduce me to REAL TREASURES of Tiffany, to JOSEPHINE and SELENA, to MARK and SUSAN and GIOVANNA and JACKIE, to name just a few of his twinkling, sparkling, truly BEAUTIFUL co-workers. And OH, HOW impressed i was!!! The Glow of God in Josephine’s eyes is worth more than any stone in that giant tower! HECK, it’s worth more than the WHOLE TOWER!!!!

Having lived in and around NYC for much of my life, never once did i have an inkling or desire to enter that building which i have strolled by hundreds of times, but THANK YOU, GOD, thank you for my son, who highlighted my latest trip to the Big Apple by bringing me to the TREASURE there.

Isn’t this what Pope Francis’ visit to America has been all about? And isn’t this what his very papacy since that glorious, lucky day of 3/13/13 has been all about, telling us that the treasures of the earth are not the jewels we wear on our fingers or ankles or around our necks. Yes, they are lovely, for sure, but the treasures are what we hold within, our faith, our love, our HOPE! That night at the Vatican, when he first stepped out on the balcony with the new name which immediately told what a different different Pope he would be – FRANCIS!!!! – he passed on the traditional First Blessing of the masses in the Piazza San Pietro. Instead he bowed to the beauty, or what he calls “the Transcendent Dignity of Each Human Being,” and he ASKED THEM TO BLESS HIM. Unthinkable, unimaginable…but true!0924150723 (1) OH, HOW THEY SPARKLED BEFORE HIM!!!!

All throughout his visit to the great megalopolis these past few days his message has been consistent, simple and clear. The REAL TREASURES of the Earth are the poor, the homeless, those who want to work but cannot find sufficient work to feed their families and are caught up in a great and terrible spiral downward. The Real Jewels of society also are those who do find work and go about their business hour after hour, day after day, trying to make ends meet, while a relatively small few become richer and richer, more and more powerful, forgetful of their beginnings and of what GIFTS they have received…for the sharing.

(i love Beyonce, modern day queen. i know that behind her incredible voice (and gorgeous body, lol) lies a deep and powerful Faith in God and a Heart of true Gold Love. When i heard recently that she bought a pair of shoes for $300,000, it broke my heart. It could have fed whole cities of children who will starve this week. What got into the poor Queen’s mind?) i love her, because i always think of her as the little girl singing in church about Jesus. Before money became a factor. Our HOPE lies in the CHILDREN we once WERE  – and still ARE inside, if we can only learn the famous “striptease” of St. Francis of Assisi, get rid of the trappings, take off the “fake jewelry,” get back to WHAT IS REAL.

i am so grateful for my journey to the Heart of New York – to gaze upon the sparkling white diamond of a People’s Pope. i am so grateful for precious time with the most wonderful stepson a man could ever have, my Benjamin – who KNOWS where TRUE VALUE lies. i am so grateful that he introduced me to the “jewels” he cherishes. i pray that Tiffany’s TREASURES them, as Ben and i do. They are far more PRECIOUS than all of the diamonds  in their vaults.

A PERFECT RAY OF HOPE

0925151631In a recent blog about a coming visit by the Pope i predicted it would be “the perfect storm of grace,” much like Hurricane Grace of 1990 came to be known for such “perfection.” All of the elements just had to be in place. Yesterday all of the elements came together, and i found myself right smack inside its “peaceful eye.”

i had never dreamed of being part of this storm of grace, but at the last minute an ole pal o’ mine, my true blue Man in Blue, Officer Brian Reilly of the NYPD secured me and my stepson, Ben, a place in the Heart of New York, its Central Park. And not just anywhere in that gigantic park, what better place could it all come together than John Lennon’s precious Strawberry Fields. There 200,000 humans of every possible variety were pressed together in one spirit of hope, patiently awaiting the briefest glance at one who has shown himself to be “the Ambassador of Hope on Earth.”

Those standing on the highest hill were shouting out frequent false alarms of his arrival. Then suddenly they screamed and pointed the vast crowd up into the blue sky, where some passing clouds miraculously painted into the whole scene a magnificent rainbow, the Biblical Symbol of Hope. Noah told the people for all time that it meant God would never give up on us. And right in our midst there below was the most beautiful baby in the world, telling us in the wonderful words of Gandhi, “Every baby born is God’s personal love letter to tell us so…” Of course, our baby’s name was CLAIRE, named after St. Francis’ best friend! Many of us in the crowd decided she’d be perfect bait to catch a Pope!!!0925151724

It didn’t work this time, but all of us were perfectly satisfied that between the baby, the Papa, the Rainbow, and our human family, HOPE reigned!

Pope Francis whisked by, many an eye cried, every heart skipped a beat, and then the mob slowly went home happy. Ben and i were among the last ones to leave, as, of course, i just had to pay my Johnny a visit. We stopped by his IMAGINE Memorial, and as i read, “Imagine all the people living life in peace,” i thought, “Johnny Boy, you’d be mighty proud of this Pope Francis. Today he made your beautiful dream come true. Watch over him for us please. Let him stay around a good while longer. Thanks, friend! We still love you.
Oh, and buddy, they all say this man’s predecessor, Pope John Paul, really changed the world, working with Ronald Reagan to knock down the Wall and end Communism. But i always said JohnPaul couldn’t have done it without John and Paul – and George and Ringo. You guys sent words and melodies of sweet love over the Wall and into the broken hearts of those in that Darkness, making their chains unbearable, intolerable. And do you know what, Johnny? This Pope Francis knows it’s true. He knows that to change the world, we must embrace the world and all that’s in it! Bye for now…See ya next time. Peace.”0925151749

HE SIMPLY CAME TO REMIND US…

0924151052aIt’s carved on our buildings, printed on all our legal tender, and burned in our brave and free hearts. The man in white just came to remind us!

When i wrote the other day that Papa George Washington and Papa Jorge/alias Pope Francis colliding in Spirit would mean Fireworks, i didn’t mean  Fourth of July type. Although this Pope is absolutely EXPLOSIVE with
Joy at times, the “Fireworks of Faith” are in general more subdued – but at the same time more intense. i am about to hop on the Metro North Hudson Valley Line on my way to Central Park, NYC, to encounter the “Ball of Wonder” himself, who has taken America by storm. i hope to get a firsthand glance of those fireworks in his eyes.  …Wish me luck….

i first encountered such “fireworks of faith” in a teeny tiny lady named Mother Teresa of Calcutta. The twinkle in her eye was actually so bright that i had to look away (she also made me feel worm-like  in my own practice of our faith). Later, in 1985, a true man of God named Pope John Paul II had just recently been “assassinated,” or at least that’s how some doctors put it. His bullet wounds were such that he should not have been up and still walking – let alone pressing the flesh again through massive crowds. Oh, how he was frustrating the doctors and the Roman Curia and the Swiss Guards in his holy disobedience!!! When they asked, “Do you want to get killed?”, he just laughed. It wasn’t even a valid question. He just had to be with his people, and his Faith, his Trust in God, made him fearless. No one could hurt him, REALLY, as no one could harm his soul. More than once, i had the awesome experience of looking directly into his eyes and seeing those fireworks.

Pope Francis is exactly the same way. There could very well be someone out there any minute of any day, out to get him. How many threats there have been!!! And he just laughs or goes through the mobs with that twinkle in his eye, fearless in Faith. George Washington was the same, totally trusting in God.

But i saw those fireworks before! Before Mother, before any Pope, i had encountered a massive display in a place i never thought of finding them. i was sent to West Texas to offer my knowledge about St. Francis to a new group of friars, who had taken up residence within a Mexican migrant camp. It turned out to be the most influential school of my own life. How many times i would stop in the middle of a lesson – to listen — and then to tell the brothers not to listen to me. If they wanted to learn about St. Francis, if they wanted to MEET St. Francis, if they wanted to KNOW St. Francis, they simply should go out and hang out with the Mexicans. The famous Hereford cows right across the highway were probably eating better, and better cared for. There were whole families of these faithful people of God living in shacks the size of my present backyard shed. But there was a little church in the center of the camp, and i would often wonder how it remained in tact, as they would “rock” it with joyful song and dance with a Faith and a Gratitude so great that even now it leaves me in tears and in chills. In a way their faith could actually TRUMP the faith of these famous SAINTS i mentioned. i know that Pope Francis  would agree with me. i can just see him bowing to the “transcendent dignity” of my Mexican Family of Faith, Hope and Love.

Hey! Speaking of TRUMP, none of these hundreds of Mexicans was a rapist or a drug-dealer.  Only a few hundred saints! Penniless Saints, whose parents had had no fortune to leave them, except the ONLY REAL FORTUNE, FAITH. They often told me that what brought them to Texas was the Motto of our Fair Country, IN GOD WE TRUST.  Truly all that they owned was a pure and perfect trust that the All-Loving Father would get them food for each day. The mighty twinkles in their eyes often made me ask, “Who ARE the true poor of the earth, and who ARE the truly rich?!” When i reflected the other day on what the Father of our Nation wrote in Newburgh, N.Y., to his People-not-yet-born, about how they would never become a great or happy nation unless they were committed from the start to be humble and thankful, compassionate and caring for anyone in need, and that they must beware of “the arrogance which is so very possible with prosperity,” – when i posted George’s Plea, i must admit that “the Donald” did cross my mind. As a kid he was always in a brawl, so his parents decided to send him upstate to military school. His formative years were spent JUST DOWN THE ROAD from George Washington’s House. The General’s Spirit was, or should have been, the Spirit of that school. Did little Donnie miss a lesson or two? i wonder. His opinion of Mexicans alone brings up the question. Maybe Fred and Mary would have done better to send the boy to the school of a migrant camp?

How interesting that perhaps the strongest responses to Pope Francis’ historic speech to Congress came when he said, with brilliant smile, “I am happy that America remains a land of dreams…” and “Never be afraid of foreigners, for most of us were once foreigners.” In God We Trust.

FRANCOBOLLI – Come on, roll it!

0924150723 (1)One of my oldest (meaning “most faithful”) friends, Carole Roberts, once said, “Oh, Michael! You make the world seem so beautiful!”
i must admit, i have tried for much of my life to do what Pope Francis does to perfection, to always see the good through the bad, the light in the darkness, the gold in life’s ore. i have had a great deal of help in this quest from a God Who has simply smothered me with gifts, especially so many
“angels.”

One of the most powerful of such occasions, that very much sealed my optimism, happened in the Spring of 1985 when the Capuchins sent me to Italy for a few months special assignment. Very soon after arriving, i experienced at the Vatican a genuine miracle, though far unlike any that i had ever dreamed of. To experience it with me i am going to challenge your linguistic ability. Get ready to roll with some beautiful Italian.
My dad had sent me a check to cover my mail and gifts to family and friends, and i heard that the Vatican Bank had the best exchange rate. It was still in lire then, so i walked out of the bank with about a million! i was headed to the Vatican Post Office, one of the world’s busiest, to send dad a “grazie.” There i stood among a great mass of humanity of all kinds. We were all waiting for – LOOK OUT, HERE IT COMES – FRANCOBOLLI!!! Ah, don’t you love it? It means stamps. What a word, but it must be rolled. Come on, you can do it!

Anyway, so i fixed my FRANCOBOLLI, mailed my letter, and took off down Via di Porta Angelica for a cappuccino. But after slowly savoring my drink, i reached for my money to pay, only to realize i had left it ALL on a counter at the post office in that vast sea. My heart sank. It was all i had. The cafe guy felt my pain and let me go on a “domani” (tomorrow). Walking back, then, towards St. Peter’s, i just kept thinking of how long it had been and how at least 1000 had gone by the spot. Still, a spirit pulled me into the building and through the mob, only to find that someone had spread a million lire across three feet of counter space, so that the loser might see it. A woman was licking francobolli inches away, and she knew by my eyes that i was “the guy.” “Eh, Bravo!” she screamed, and with her a couple hundred souls, all applauding me, patting my back or hugging me. i just stood in awe, a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. i bowed to them, to the Good God in them, as i recalled the sentiment of Thomas Merton, the day he left his sacred hermitage in order to return to a city to see a doctor.It was in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, at its busiest intersection, that Fr. Merton stopped dead in his tracks, seeing, as if for the first time: “The Blessed Human Race! If only they could see themselves, shining like the Sun.”

How utterly awesome on March 13, 2013, when a brand new Pope, who asked to be called Francis, stood on a balcony overlooking that very spot where i met God. And now, with billions watching, he did something totally new. He was supposed to give them all his very first blessing, but instead he bowed to them, to the Very Sacredness of them, each and every one, and asked them to bless him. Recently my niece, Andrea, was visiting Rome, and when she returned, she brought me this refrigerator magnet picturing that very very
moment, reinforcing the reinforcing of my memory of God in His Creatures. No wonder Pope Francis started his American Visit with a Cannon Blast of HOPE.
How can i not believe, with him, in the what he spoke of today before the Congress, “THE TRANSCENDENT DIGNITY OF THE HUMAN BEING!?”0923151850 (1)

GOD LOVES KNUCKLEHEADS…

416613_290084634406173_382317597_oi had a whole blog planned for today, but then i

saw the Holy Father, Pope Francis, giving his first speech to America on the lawn of our

White House. It was as refreshing as the Glorious September Weather that wraps around

the Megalopolis (i.e. NY to DC). WHAT a POWERFUL OPENING PUNCH OF HOPE and

OPTIMISM!!! The line which especially stood out to me was, “We know by faith that the

Creator never abandons us or regrets creating us” no matter how much we might mess up.

When people ask me whether i regret leaving the priesthood, i look at this picture of my

daughter, Molly, and say, “REGRET?!” As the Pope spoke, i kept thinking of another great

great “Franciscan,” (who wasn’t even Catholic, though he was more “catholic” than most

Catholics) Mahatma Gandhi, who said, “The only battles to be fought on this earth should

be those of each man on the battlefield of his own heart. I must confess I haven’t fared

well on my own. I suppose that is why I have so much patience with the other scoundrels

of the earth….” But he also said, “Every baby that is born is a love letter from the Creator,

saying, ‘LOOK, I HAVEN’T GIVEN UP ON YOU YET! AND I NEVER WILL!!'”

Later today the Pope will address the GIGANTIC CONTROVERSY of declaring Fr.

Junipero Serra a Saint, despite his many sinful treatments of the Native American people.

This amazing TRANSPARENT man of God, Pope Francis, means to FACE the SINS of our

Church, GREAT AND SMALL, Past, Present, and Future, lay them out on the table —ask

forgiveness, and say MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE that no matter how rotten we each

could be, the Love of God is there, it is ESPECIALLY THERE INSIDE US, each and every

one, WELLING UP, BUBBLING UP INFINITELY, intent on washing us clean, healing us

completely, and giving us a Brand New Start. Sainthood is God’s doing, not ours! POPE

FRANCIS often says, personally, “Please pray for me. I AM A SINNER.”

To me, one word perfectly represents Pope Francis, and that is OPTIMIST. The word

means ONE WHO ALWAYS LOOKS FOR THE BEST, EVEN INSIDE THE BEAST!!! In

every single person, however horrid a bitter or a self-centered life could transform them,

is a little child – like this Molly girl – FOREVER LOVED!

Again, a friend just asked me whether i still wish i was a priest? i told him that i am

perfectly content and satisfied to be a KNUCKLEHEAD. i truly believe that the best of

all “careers” that any of us could take on in life is that of becoming a “master apologizer

and forgiver.” Nothing else matters so much in the long run. And the start of such a

quest – at least i’m at the start – is to realize what a knucklehead i am.

THANK YOU, HOLY FATHER, for starting with HOPE. i said in a previous blog

that the great Quaker, William Penn, tried the experiment of all seeing each other as

and living as brothers and sisters under one God. “PHILADELPHIA” failed terribly

time and again, but we have to keep trying. Ain’t that what you mean, Papa???!!!

KNUCKLEHEAD’S SOUP

0729150944e-1-1May i Offer You a Bowl?

My writing career commenced at the ripe old age of 58, when i found myself out of work and with some spare time on my hands. My wife had encouraged me for years to do a memoir – of quite a fascinating life – but my usual answer was, “There is really nothing new to say; it has all been said or written before.”

“Oh, but, Honey!” was her tupelo-honey version of “Bullcrap!” “Just think of your 22 years with the Capuchin friars, ten as a priest in good graces with the Church! Mix into that 22 years back out on the road again, marrying me and my four children, and whipping up two more little beauties of your own. I think you have something to say and an obligation to say it.” In other words, she was not taking No for an answer! And so, in a matter of two weeks i decided to give her – in lieu of flowers, jewelry or chocolate – a very unique Mother’s Day gift. “Squeaky Kneeler” was its title, the nickname i had chosen for myself upon leaving the priesthood – but still hanging out in church. There, at St. Mary’s in Fishkill, N.Y., i’d found a little pew way in the back, and it had, by chance, a very squeaky kneeler. That will be me, said i, no longer a preacher, but i can’t help squeaking now and then.

This little book, complete with photo of my kneeler, went from my wife’s hands into the world and soon took a life of its own, making its way as far as Pope Francis’ inner circle. A thousand copies sold on Amazon and Kindle. The more that i re-read it, however, the more i knew it needed help, change, revision. i knew that there was a better way to say what i was squeaking inside, and, first and foremost, i needed to clarify just who the author is. When my good parents first took me into St. Helena’s Church in Wilmington, Delaware, for my Baptism, they chose for me the name of Michael, the High Prince of all of the saints and angels. i’m sure that they had high hopes for me as well. But, it wasn’t long before my grandfather “re-christened” me with another name, one which was to stick and echo in through the minds and mouths of many others; and, to be honest, it became the name that i preferred: KNUCKLEHEAD! One who learns very slowly, one who makes many mistakes, one who must make many an apology….but, God knows, one whose little heart is good.
Authorship clarified, what about the Soup?! Well, it seemed to me that the better way to put all of this, this unique mix of all that came to me in life, no matter how old or used before, is in terms of Soup. My wife knows me to be a master soup-maker (thanks to Father Jude Duffy, my “seminary dad” who stressed that we should learn not just out of books but all about life and independence. He made sure we learned to cook and bake.) And my Bridget points out that though my ingredients might be very common, there is no one who mixes them just the way i do, no one who applies the spices of life just like me. Generous on both laughter and tears, for example, the two being really one and the same, as i see it, the deeper the depression, the heartier the humor. i will be very liberal with blood, sweat and tears, then stir them up into one giant guffaw! There’s a lot of good STUFF in this here bowl, drawn from the stories of so many “EXTRAORDINARY ORDINARY” people who graced my life. My blog, which hopefully in time will be placed inside a bookcover, is mostly their stories. My own is quite dull and knucklish, if not for those “visitors.” And TALK ABOUT KNUCKLEHEAD!? My latest – and Greatest – act of stubbornness was in not listening to my kids who for years told me, “Books are out, Blogging’s in! Do one, dad!” It is the proper way to dish out the soup.

Most important is that you know this to be a Knucklehead’s Soup. Never do i want to sound “pontifical,” that sad, ugly word meaning “know-it-all.” Meanwhile, i am happy to present myself as my Pop Pop’s – and the Lord’s “Stubborn Gus,” though one in love with learning. But, even if i did “know-a-lot,” what is that, if knowledge does not filter through the heart to make “the Broth of Good Living?” i assure you, whatever you find in FriarDadAdventures comes straight from the heart. i hope that you will come, come often, to try my soup. (And hey! should anyone like to try my “Squeaky Kneeler,” it is still available at The Book Patch.com and on Kindle…)

WHEN PAPA GEORGE MEETS PAPA GEORGE – Fireworks!!!

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Hopefully you will pardon my feeble attempt at the art of the silhouette! In last-minute desperation i cheated with the Pope’s little hat and President’s wig and wooden teeth. How Beautiful that they shared those double chins!!! i also took the liberty of giving our George a hefty grin. Pope Francis’ is already his great trademark, but i often imagine that from Newburgh forward George Washington engaged in many a belly-laugh. For the previous few years he had little to laugh about, but i have come to see that the deeper one’s soul is carved by sorrow, the greater its laughter will re-sound – that is, when one has the key ingredient of Faith.

Yesterday my blog ended with passionate desire that before Thursday morning, when he makes history as the first Pope to address the American Congress, Pope Francis would be able to read the plea of our Founding Father to a New-America-Still-Unborn, from his knees in the final headquarters of Newburgh, New York. Mr. Donald Trump has adamantly insisted that he coined the phrase, “Making America Great Again.” No politician has ever said it before!! However, we do know that General Washington, finally the “Victor,” about 240 years ago, promised that this nation would never be great – and never be happy, lest it became a People of Humility and Gratitude, of Mercy and Compassion, not swaggering about in “the arrogance of prosperity.” The victor KNEW that he owed EVERYTHING to GOD, into whose hands he placed his courageous army every morning, noon, and night.

In the same way this holy, noble visitor to our country explodes constantly with Joy, even as he bears the weight of the world on his human shoulders. He is able to only because he leaves it all in the same God’s hands – morning, noon, and night – through PRAYER.

Only just recently did it dawn on me that Papa George would be meeting Papa George this week, at least in Spirit. The very Same Spirit which enabled Washington to found what potentially is the greatest nation on earth, on 3/13/13 whisked this joyful little dancer from Argentina and planted him on the greater World Stage. Yes, he was a Bishop, and a Cardinal, but most of all he was a poor and simple, humble priest known to all as Papa Jorge. That day he took a new name, pointing the eyes of the world to a poor and tiny man from Assisi, knowing that St. Francis still holds the keys to how this world can be re-united and re-newed, made brand new! Shortly, that same Papa Jorge will arrive here, super-fortified by the Faith of Francis. And when his Spirit meets the Spirit of George Washington (a Spirit that is far from gone, no matter how much some knuckleheads may try to keep it buried), THERE WILL SURELY BE FIREWORKS!!!!!

My Second Father

0919151030a0919151109this one’s dedicated to Doris Kearns Goodwin, America’s Dearest Historian!

When you enter my city of Beacon, New York, you are greeted by this proud
monument (though i doubt that many of our residents even know it’s here?!) It is, of course, human nature to take such “center-stones” for granted. i realize that there are few like me, who can hardly get through a day without the mind wandering back to George Washington. To live in the area where he spent the most time during the great war which birthed our nation, to breathe-in his air and to feel his Spirit still alive here is just – just – WOW!

The day that I left home, at 14, to enter the seminary, my father said to me,
“Now you will have a thousand fathers.” But already the position of #2 in my heart had been battled for – by the sweet round Pope, John XXIII, and George Washington.To this day it’s hard to say if either one won, especially the more i learned of George. My favorite president, like so many others’, is Lincoln (that passion most evident on the tattooed arm of today’s barista, Alex. SEE PHOTO ABOVE) However, any honest student of “Honest Abe” knows that the Truth that compelled him to face each day’s battles was Abe’s utter devotion to one man. Lincoln chewed on and swallowed the Bible with the same voracious appetite with which he devoured anything he could get on the first father of our nation. If anyone would break the great mystery of “JUST WHAT WAS Lincoln’s Religion?,” the answer is in the man, George Washington, the best of faith personified, the total abandonment of a life to God.

i don’t recall how young i was, when my eyes first beheld a Washington bed.
While my dad planted in my head that comical sense so prevalent in the 50s of “hey, just how many of these beds exist?,” at least THERE i knew that “the Great One” had definitely rested his head. It wasn’t far from my home – in the ever beautiful Valley of the Brandywine. i stood in awe, my tiny body bursting with goosebumps! That house remains, of course, there in Chadds Ford, Pa., such a sacred, and sad, place, a place of great loss. More men fought that day, September 11, for the longest time of any of the war’s battles, 11 hours straight. The prize would be massive, the city of Philadelphia! At the loss hopelessness just about took the Patriot’s Soul – were it not for the Faith of the Commander. It was on that battlefield that i first learned life’s lesson that “you can lose many battles, but still win the war. As bad as things get, GOOD will be the Victor.”

Where i live now – in another beautiful valley which also saw much fighting
and was often soaked by Patriot and Redcoat blood – there is such a different sense amid the same sacredness. The Hudson Valley of New York is where the General, with his faithful companion, Martha, stayed the longest and where he could finally unwind a bit, reflect on all that had taken place, PRAY and PRAY night and day, and write. Washington was always taking notes on life and its adventures. There is no place where the Faith of the our Father is better expressed than in a letter he meant for the whole infant nation that was about to be truly delivered. George Washington clearly had the strongest conviction that “All is Gift” and that God is the One in Charge, the Only True Commander-in-Chief. None of the thousand or so bullets, which his comrades in battle saw whizzing by Washington, ever hit a target, which God would not allow. And now this man, on grateful knees, wished to share it all with all “Americans” of all time.

WOULD SOMEONE PLEASE GIVE THESE WORDS TO POPE FRANCIS!!!!!!

who in five days will be the first Pope in history to address the Congress and the People of this great nation. i doubt that many of the knuckleheads will even be listening, but LET HIM CALL UPON THEIR FATHER and his words. Perhaps they will not listen to them either, but they certainly should HEAR them. In my humble opinion, for this “Herculean Task,” the Good and Gentle Pope needs simply to re-introduce us to our dad. This is “daddy’s constant plea:”

“How I wish that all would come together now and offer sincere thanks for the Signal Mercies which distinguish us as a nation. Preserve us, our Heavenly Father, from the Arrogance of Prosperity. Imprint on our hearts now a deep sense of our obligations, to share with the whole world the Incomparable Mercy that has been shown to us. Render this country more and more a safe asylum for the unfortunate of this world. Dispose us all to love Mercy and to do Justice and to dress ourselves with the same humility, charity, and pacific temper of Him, without a humble imitation of whose
example we can never hope to be a happy nation. Amen.”