O HAPPY FAULT!

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Today i was at a local gas station, simply putting some air into a tire, when i suddenly looked to my side and saw a large rock – SMILING AT ME! i am not joking. The cracks, the flaws, the faults in it had turned this rock into a happy rock.

At the very heart of solid Christian theology is this belief in the “Happy Fault.” Each year at the Church’s highest ceremony, at midnight of the Easter Vigil, a designated singer stands only in the light of the giant Easter Candle and sings the whole wonderful story once again. And in the heart of the song he swoons, “Ooooohhh, Happy Fault!,” referring to the great and wonderful CRACK in humanity, this tendency toward a “dark side,” as George Lucas likes to put it. The most commonly used word is “sin.” But have no fear, as the Great Song, the Exultet, declares, for that is the way in which we came to know LOVE HIMSELF in the One Who Came to Love the unlovable, the cracked, the flawed.

On this day, December 14, the Church celebrates the memory of St. John of the Cross, great Spanish Mystic. The Spanish have always been known for their fiery love, and this John was no exception. In fact, he might even be called “hottest of the red-hot lovers,” his poetry some of the most passionate that the world has ever known. Except, the Love he was interested in was that Fiery Love of God! He found the best imagery in the fires that warmed his cold, “dark nights of the soul” on his holy Spanish mountain.

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Years ago i came to settle on a mountain in New York called Mt. Beacon. It had come to be famous by a wise ole man who dwelt there. Besides being a grand-daddy of Folk Music, Pete Seeger was known to us mountain-people as the master-chopper, and in different conversations with Pete over the years he loved to share his secret. “Look for the flaws; every log has its faults.” Rumor on the mountain has it that that is what Mr. Seeger was doing when he died, just as he had predicted himself, chopping wood.

Pete would have loved Mystic John as a fellow connoisseur of a good fire. But for St. John a fire had the highest significance. It symbolized this Treasure beyond all treasures, this Perfect Love which longs to enter into each and every being, its nooks, its crannies, its cracks, its faults, and slowly devour it, make it One With Himself. It says many times in the Holy Books that God is not really interested in our fancy offerings or sacrifices. He longs for our weaknesses, our imperfections, our sins, which only we can surrender to God in acts of humility, of honesty. When i swing my ax, i focus on the weak spot. i thus have perfect customers for the Flame. And in the silence i can hear the Music of the Fire at work, breathing through those cracks, overtaking every dark corridor with its Light, just the way that God’s Spirit would have me.

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i opened the door of my woodstove one day to find this site. As the great Canadian poet sang, "Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. It's how the Light gets in." - Leonard Cohen

NEED A PICK-UP?

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This mid-December’s warm southerly winds that have been shocking our Hudson River Valley town – not to mention the presence of 1000 squealing seagulls – have me thinking not of White Christmasses but of strolls along the sands of New Jersey. How quickly i laid hands on a precious memory of an early morning adventure at the beautiful beach of Townsend’s Inlet, when my kids and i were greeted with an awesome surprise from Mother Nature. The tide had come and left upon the shore a large cast of crabs. And i don’t mean some little critters. i’m talking about horseshoes! Fascinating…frightening… all over the place! Brave Bern and Danny found some lying on their backs, multi hands/claws just BEGGING for help – picked them right up and flipped them over! How proud i was of them!

Last year a good buddy of mine, John Fasulo, passed away, and as i set out from my home to his funeral over ten miles away, across the Hudson River, i found myself the entire way behind a U-Haul, which advertised on its back “Need a Pick-Up?” During the service the family invited anyone to share what John meant to them, and i immediately made reference to that sign in front of me. It was so appropriate and just what i had been thinking – and thanking God for in this good man. John Fasulo was such a pick-me-up sort of man!

John was like me, a journeyman through and through. He had been a very well known photographer and television cameraman – and lover of all things railroad, ever on the move. For his last several years, however,  my friend also had a most wicked case of Parkinson’s Disease, slowly twisting him like a pretzel, almost to the point of breaking his back. But John had, above all else, an indomitable spirit that would never allow him to give up or let his love for life be stolen. In fact, the more that rotten illness bent him over, the taller, the greater he was to me and to my wife. One snowy day she happened to be jogging, and up ahead there was John jogging as well as he could, until he flipped and landed over a snowbank. Unable to right himself, along came my wife who quickly scooped him up and plopped him back on his feet. “We all go down at times, John, but keep on, my brother,” she told him. And John rewarded her with a most precious, loving gaze that lingers with her still.

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How often this is the case in life, just like the story from the Jersey Shore! Either we happen upon a brother or sister knocked-down, flipped over by a bad wave of life. Or we are the ones in the desperate predicament. That morning by the sea i looked and could not count how many mean kids were flipping crabs ONTO their backs, as we so sadly, so often, do to one another. All we need is a pick-up. “We all go down at times,” my wife said. Whoever denies it is either a liar or – even worse! a very sad perfectionist who does not let himself go down, or just never let anyone see him fall and – God forbid – cries to another for help!!! My buddy did not care if the whole world saw him go down, so long as NO ONE saw him give up!!! AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, what my wife and i would add, that John Fasulo could never ever have counted how many HE flipped over or picked up, especially by his attitude. Parkinson’s may have broken the body, which is just a shell, but not the man. In fact, his SPIRIT still flips me around.

i don’t recall even once, John touching me, but for years and years he and trusty Mack, his almost human dog,  were the first guys i met every morning – at Bob’s Corner Store over coffee on my way to work. Their gentle eyes, especially through those agonizing years, and kind words, set this morning crab on his merry way, and many times throughout the day, when i felt vicious waves belting me from side to side, the thought of Good John n Mack set me back on solid ground. How i miss those two buddies, and how often i have reflected that none of us can have a nobler purpose in life than simply to flip over another in need.  It strikes me now that such is even the REAL WONDER OF CHRISTMAS, that God came Himself in Human Form to know us, our every need, and to lend His Own Hand, His Own Heart, to pick us up.

 

 

A LOSER SO LOVED

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Very often, before we enter church, my daughter will remind me to shut off my cell phone. She cringes at the thought of my ringtone blaring out!!! When we got home today, i said, “Molly, lucky you, that nobody called us while at church. My phone is on.” “Wheeeeewwww,” she sighed.

i mean, can you imagine the happening?! i myself can’t think of anything MORE appropriate, as my ringtone is the lovely screaming voice of John Lennon, “I’m a LOSER. I’m a LOOOOSER.  I’m not what I appear to be.” The very reason i go to church, a sinner saved, a man of many faults, a loser soooo loved.

It must be why i took to Charlie Brown who was born just three Novembers before me. As soon as i was able to reflect – and relate to my fellowmen, i fell in love with him, whose faults and failings are all too well known…but SO IS THE FAITHFUL LOVE OF HIS BEAGLE, SNOOPY.

When i was a priest in Hoboken, N.J., back in the 1980s, a sweet young parishioner who became a very dear friend, Barbara Verdonck, worked at the CVS, and she just KNEW that i would love the giant display CHUCK! She had heard me tell many a parable a la Peanuts, especially about the mean, vicious Lucy and her habit of never letting Charlie forget what a loser he is. Oh, how we know that pain! One of my favorite singers ever, Jackson Browne, almost cries when he sings that line of “These Days;” he is pleading, “Don’t confront me with my failures. I HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN THEM!” It’s why we GO to church – or why i go – in the first place. “My sins are ever before me.” Psalm 51 of that Great Fellow-Loser, David, even though Great Great King of the Jews.

We go to church to be met again by the GREAT BEAGLE, the LOVER of all lovers, to be embraced again…and made brand new. No matter how many times the LOSER seems to win out. With God, we can never really lose.

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My Beagle, Rudy, is still scared of the Great Mr. Brown, except when a hand pops out with a biscuit. Gradually he will find the Great Love there.

CHEERY RIPPLE

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My tribute blog to my 88 year old mother has prompted so many tender responses from all over the country, that i feel i must add another note. i mean, just consider the impact of this little tiny lady, easily compared to a stick of dynamite! One responder was a priest who “confessed” that many times, when he was near the limit of his strength and thinking he could go more, it was the faith of my mom, “his mom too,” that cheered him on. This means that so much of what he accomplished – she did it, too!

It all takes me back to 1968, when i left my mother to go into the world. i left her that summer with two images burned into my being. One was that of a pool of water (like Andy Griffith and Opie’s), holding a ripple made by a tiny pebble. Despite two deaths that had devastated our nation, that of JFK and MLK, the 60s were still such a Time of HOPE! Just as this Pope of Hope can have the NOIVE to journey into the poor and devastated lands of Africa, call “Muslims and Christians Brothers and Sisters,” and declare this age the AGE OF HOPE!!

The perfect explanation for such Hope can be found in the words of our “Man of Hope in 1968,” the man who never stopped believing in the overwhelming GOODNESS of HUMANITY and that the GREAT GOOD would win in the end mostly because of little tiny pebble-deeds that created many waves against all the bad. That was Robert Francis Kennedy, whose darling mother, Rose, swore, “We’ll never see the likes of him again.” But here he is again in Francis the Pope.

So much of what Bobby said was behind my decision to enter a seminary that summer – to see what i could do, if i put my mind and heart to it, for a very sick country and a rather “hopeless” world. i was all signed up and ready to go, WHEN IT HAPPENED.

Even more than the ripple image, forever branded in my soul is the Masterpiece of Bill Epperidge, Bobby’s photographer. i’m probably not allowed to post this, but i’ll take a gamble:1130151250a

Another Pool, this time of blood – of BOBBY – ready to even offer his life to the Great Hope! For me it sealed my decision to go and make a ripple or two myself.

Yesterday i posted a tribute to my momma, who was so proud of her Cheerleading abilities in high school – and so humble as not to recognize that she had given her whole life to the task. Her Faith and her every tiny deed of selfless love lifted up more people than she could ever count on the playing field of the world. She treated so many of the “wounded in the field hospital,” which Pope Francis finally came to call our Church. There she is – there IT IS again, the Ripple of my Mother, as every one that she cheered along in turn passed faith and hope and love – GOOD CHEER – to countless others. Jack, Martin, Bobby, Francis, AND MIDGIE!! All bent on doing a little something good for God…and then just letting go, letting it roll wherever it would, content to be nothing.  Mother Teresa, tinier even than my mom (i saw her face to face) lived “to shrink,” i.e. to be less and less herself, that others – and the God in Others – be more and more!

My mother was eating in one of her favorite restaurants recently, and lo! and behold! who else is there but the Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden. Mom told him how he went to the same grammar school as her kids. He held and kissed her hand – and thanked her (knowing Joe, it was with his own gratitude and the thanks of a grateful nation, as he often tells this same sweet story of the CHEERY RIPPLES of our great mothers.) She was tickled! So…..

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How nice my handwriting was in ’68! lol.