ZUPPA DI VIT!

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My wife had been begging, or was it bugging, me, to write a book. My regular response was, “There is nothing new under the sun. It’s all been said.” Then she’d say – so wisely – that “maybe there’s nothing new in your discoveries, but nobody can say it quite like you, because no one’s been BLESSED with the same TENDER MERCIES (referring to that Tender film) as you have,” all the wonderful people who have taught me about Loving and Living and Dying and Suffering with Joy.

One such Mercy was the man into whose hands my parents placed me almost 50 years ago, Father Jude Duffy, Cappuccino. 10940501_764883133592985_1708382549530053818_nLucky me, to find this Irish Pot o Gold, who insisted that we seminarians learn independence, namely to do everything on our own, including cooking. i became quite the baker and learned to put together a “mean soup!” Yummmm! But, now i see what the wife is saying, “It’s Time to Make a ZUPPA di VIT!!”

Ha, ha! Yes, my wife is pure Italian. She knows a good zuppa, when she sees one. Her family is “Nabalidan!” (Neopolitan/of Naples), and they have this funny habit of killing their beautiful language. It sounds like they are all in this big hurry, so they chop word after word to pieces like onions or garlic, thus creating, for example, Zuppa d’Vit, the Soup of Life! It’s as if their words are in a hurry to be heard.

Hey, maybe she’s right! Maybe they ARE right, this great batch of Napolitans! Life is so short. My wife’s mother and father and brother ALL died very young to affirm that fact. And, well, look at me, at 62 carrying cancer and lung disease, arthritis and tinnitus. My own dear dad did not make it much further than me. If i’m gonna make this soup, i’d better get to it.

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The ZUPPA of which i speak, of course, is not made of onions, potatos, tomatos, chicken, steak, or pesce, but of human lives, the ones i’ve been so blessed to encounter. (It is not about me, by the way, i’m just the mixer and the sharer.) There are countless recipes around the world for great meals, and countless recipes for good, successful, HAPPY lives. My hand will be very liberal with the laughter and with the tears. When i was 12, there was a guy named Rudy Martinez who called himself Question Mark, and with his garage rock n roll band, the Mysterians, he had one big hit called “96 Tears.” Well, that would be me and my soup…at least 96 doses of crocodile tears to spice it up right, but right on top of them 106 spoonfuls of laughter, and i mean big belly laughs!

A wonderful example is my wife’s cousin, Denise Knight. i have written about her before in this blog. A victim of a massive stroke about 25 years ago, she was TOLD BY DOCTORS (as if it’s theirs to tell) that hers would be a “NO Life,” she’d never be a “productive, viable member of society again,” as she was paralyzed over half of her body. BUT WHAT DO THEY KNOW??? Definitely NOT DENISE! She’s proven them wrong every day since. And i often say that her secret is her uncanny ability to laugh and to cry at the same time, thereby REALLY MIXING THE MIX. It’s like baking bread or cake. Unless it is really stirred and thoroughly blended, you are gonna have yucky chunks, that are both ugly and foul-tasting. The MIXING IS AN ART UNTO ITSELF, and Life has not shown me many mixers like Denise.

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OF COURSE there was GIGI STELLA, just about the purest example of Tender Mercy i’ve ever known, one of my wife’s enormous supply of aunts, each one a master-blend of the finest “spices of life.” Gilda was “the doll-baby” of them all, perfect love blended to perfection by a tough life, the worst of which came in her later years when she was totally mangled by arthritis. She could not come to our wedding, so we made our most important stop that day by “the CHURCH OF GIGI.” My wife herself, my Brigida, has now inherited some of her aunt’s miseries, but having also inherited her faith and hope and love – and having Gigi as her personal angel – my wife is one of these MASTER-BLENDERS of JOY and SORROW whose stories i am now so anxious to tell. As a little cappuccino i learned from St. Francis that the Greatest Gift Life has to offer is called “Perfect Joy,” the kind that comes when things just won’t go the way we’d hoped. A Cross Comes Instead, but with it all the Might of the Lord to help us “Lug it for Love…and FOR JOY!” Like Gig and Dee and Brigida and so many others i’ve known, i embrace my own one day at a time.

So, these are my ingredients, and this is my ZUPPA di VIT! And this is what i have decided to offer to, to dedicate to, Pope Francis in his Joyful Jubilee of Mercy. Like a “Chicken Soup for the Soul” mine is full of healing and strengthening properties which might serve the Holy Father well in his Church, which he now sees as “a field hospital dressing and addressing the wounded souls of the world.” My wife is so right! It would be a crying shame for me not to share these stories…of Mercy dressed in flesh and blood.

So, Mangia!  Eat and enjoy. L’Chaim! To Life!

 

A STROLL FOR STUPIDITY

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There’s nothing like an evening stroll through the city to open up the eyes and the mind.

My mind was still reeling over hearing someone say, “OMG, What a Stupid Pope!” for his having Bernie Sanders address the Vatican. It was in that mindset that i set out with the fam for a walk on Main Street. The first thing i saw in a shop window made me seriously consider the notion of “STUPIDITY?” Lolol! But for some it seems just a question of STYLE!!??

A couple windows forward, and THERE’S THE MAN HIMSELF!!! IMG_20160409_184702291

His own Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, for years called him a big “imbecile gorilla,” but when he died, Stanton saw Lincoln with a clearer head, in the proper light, and changed his opinion to “the most perfect ruler of men this world has ever seen.” Amen.

On our little journey we came to my favorite spot, a block full of giant sycamores, 90-100 feet high, and i realized that it will only be a few more days that we will be seeing them in their wonderful winter nakedness – and, thus, be able to spy that tiny dark spot near the tippity-top,

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which is the MASTER-WORK of the guy that i so often call “Stupid, Stupid, Stupid!!!” THE SQUIRREL. i mean, he really drives me nuts sometimes, darting back n forth trying to make me crash my car.  Penetrating even the most impenetrable bird-feeder. Even bold and brazen enough to jump on my daughter’s lunch table and steal her graham crackers. And on and on, they frustrate me to declare them STUPID, when in fact that black dot in the photo tells what genius they hold, when 70-80 mph winds might snap whole branches off such trees – or even the trees themselves – but cannot move so much as a feather from out of that nest, so perfectly constructed. This “imbecile” just might be the greatest builder on earth.

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i came to the conclusion that we will so often throw names (like STUPID) at those we cannot fathom or figure out. More reason for many an evening, or morning, or midday stroll to clear or to open the mind….even if there are some things we will never quite figure out, like that dress???????!!!!!!!

Hey! just how dumb is a rodent who knows to take time to smell the flowers?!

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My BERNIE Blog

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i wasn’t planning on one, but then my Pope roped me in. Today, when the announcement was made that the Oddest-ball of the Oddest-of-all Campaigns was invited to the Vatican, my emails, texts, and Facebook SHOOK. Those who know that i consider Francis the BEST DARNED POPE since St.Peter were either praising him or calling him – AND ME – two NUTS! One of the first responses was, “OMG! WHAT A  STUPID POPE!”

And so, it’s Bernie Time!!!!!

Just imagine that little boy ONCE UPON A TIME in Brooklyn, being told the stories of his family in the old country. It might have been a reading from Grimm’s Fairy Tales, but it wasn’t. It was FOR REAL!!! They had been fed to the oven by a wicked Catholic maniac by the name of Hitler, who obviously had missed a big lesson on one of the greatest Catholic contributions to the world, its Social Teaching. But, it was at that very moment that a seed was planted in the little boy’s soul. Wonderful nurturing by his parents made sure that not just “A Tree Would Grow in Brooklyn” but a tree that bore fruit in a PROPHET. Whatever you think of Bernie Sanders, love him, hate him, he is a Prophet tried n true, one who has never rested since that day of the horror stories. And here now a Catholic named Francis, who didn’t miss that class, knows that religion is all about politics, and politics all about religion, until peace and justice are established once and for all – AND REALLY FOR ALL!

i am not sure that the U.S.A. is ready for Bernie, or whether it ever will be?! He has not exactly been in line with its values, whether you call them “New York” or “American.” Oh, sure, he has always been a dreamer of “the American Dream,” but he is also forever presenting challenges, especially until EVERY ONE has a chance to dream it. It is a whole different story, those who interpret the Dream as let us get big and Bigger and BIGGEST, CRUSH whoever gets in our way. This is obviously what draws Pope Francis to THE BERN. The two share this one common belief and goal, that every man, woman,and child should get a good piece of Life’s Great Pie.

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Bernie HAPPILY went to jail for those who couldn’t get a taste. HE always MEANT what he said.

You know, if you’ve read my blogs, how i never get tired of repeating myself, with regards to the Great Daddy of our country. i’ll say it again here for Bernie’s sake. i’ve heard that the Bern is coming to my neck of the woods, to downtown Newburgh, New York. Though it is one of the most dangerous neighborhoods, right there smack dab in the middle of it all is a tiny house, where the Father of America lived right up til the end of the Revolution to set this nation free. On his knee in that house, overwhelmed by gratitude to God, General Washington wrote a prayer-full letter to the budding nation. i say his words every day as a prayer: “Imprint on our hearts now a deep sense of our obligations for those Incomparable Mercies that have been shown to us as a nation, preserve us from the arrogance of prosperity, and render this country more and more a safe asylum for the unfortunate of this world. Dispose us all to love Mercy and 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, Jesus my Lord!”

To me that letter is like the “Bible of America.” Abraham Lincoln, they say, held a Bible in one hand and a Life of George Washington in the other. And the Dad’s Dream became Abe’s Dream. Abe, so many screamed, was out of his mind!!! For example, to think that black people from Africa (who sure didn’t come over here of their own will!!!) should have every right of the white. Bernie often makes me think of Abe. Bernie says clearly that he wishes there were no talk of God in the mix (as he has seen so much horror committed in the Holy Name of God, including slavery.) Lincoln described his religion as, “When I do good, I feel good, and when I do bad, I feel bad.” Bernie has also said that a spirituality so lived as it is in Pope Francis, ACTIONS THEN WORDS…is one he’d be honored to live with.

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Whatever you think of Bernie Sanders, there is no denying the Prophet. And he is Francis’ kind, for certain, as the Pope has made it clear from his own day one that what this world needs is MERCY, not MONEY, Prophets, not Profits, Servants, not Lords who lust for power. And this has been the simple gospel of Bernie since his first run for office in high school, determined to never ever let “the little people” be screwed or silenced or slaved or gassed or cooked again. These other candidates of 2016 have flip-flopped somuch over the years, while the Bern just kept burning the same old message ad nauseum. “Wacky” maybe, but tried and true!! “The little guy is the one who matters most.” The little guys apparently find Mrs. Clinton just about as trustworthy, or as interested in them, as Mr. Trump, their real goals being to see giant portraits of themselves on the walls by George and Abe. HECK, the Donald, who says he’s in it for “the little guy,” already plans to rename the White House TRUMP PLACE! i can just hear him, can’t you? “Hey, I might as well. I spent a lot of money on this campaign, my own money; lots of money! And I didn’t take a dime! I think I earned the right to change the name!!”

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Mr. Sanders, by contrast, has an incredible, probably the record, majority who believe he is authentic, sincere, honest, and worthy of trust. And NONE so devoted as the YOUNG PEOPLE OF AMERICA, the hope of the future. Most likely Bernie Sanders will be neither Nominee, nor President in 2016. But even more likely Bernie Sanders will not be forgotten for a long, long time.

And the Pope? That STUPID POPE FRANCIS? Well, if stupid is defined as dull or dead in the head, what head has shown more electric than Bernie’s or Francis’, ever thinking, ever challenging, ever PROPHETIC!?!

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STARING INTO THE EYES OF GOD

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My dear 88 year old Mother often likens “THE DIVINE MERCY” as a LOOKING INTO THE  EYES OF GOD. Whenever something wonderful or miraculous happens in her life, she immediately grabs pen n paper, or telephone, to tell me, “God’s doing it again, winking at me!!!”

My precious friend, Olga Mihanowich, old enough to call my mother “a kid,” called me today to share a beautiful tale of Divine Mercy. It had to do with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, in whose eyes Olga has seen God’s Great Big Heart.IMG_20160406_192905 i told her that i just had to share it here.

Actually it is about Olga’s friends, Matt and Nancy Condon of Beacon, New York. They were booked on a flight Friday night from New York City to Rome. They were among a large group, under the lead of Cardinal Dolan, to celebrate Easter and Divine Mercy with our Pope. There was, however, a problem. After all of the months of planning they had not anticipated an airplane with mechanical issues. After hours of praying with mechanics-at-work, the whole delegation was told they’d have to wait another day for another plane. Everyone was shuffling about, making arrangements, but Matt and Nancy were too late. It appeared that they would have to just curl up in one of JFK’s cozy airport lounges…until the Big Man, headed back to St. Patrick’s, asked about them. He would hear nothing of their staying anywhere but in his home. They must’ve felt that a bright Angel was before them, IMG_20160405_210448987

but angels don’t usually wake you up the next morning with a big breakfast. Men do, men who have stared into the eyes, and deeply through to the HEART, of God. 12371029_920057238075573_9091724108862031976_o (1)

Pope Francis has probably considered among his most important work these past three years the countless appeals – should we call it begging – to his fellow bishops and priests, that they fall passionately in love with God, that is, MADLY IN LOVE WITH LOVE HIMSELF! A LOVE THAT EXPLODES IN JOY! No doubt, whatever has been Matt and Nancy Condon’s experience in Italy throughout this week, whatever Olga will be hearing and seeing in photos this weekend, it probably will not compare to Day One, the failed day, the flopped plan, when they came face-to-face with Mercy Divine in human form. They had planned a trip of 4300 miles to celebrate Divine Mercy, but they had already felt and tasted it in the generosity of their own good shepherd.

TIMMY, YOU DID YOUR PAPA PROUD!!! (Not to mention your dear Mama!)

i have stared myself into the eyes of the Cardinal (though, like Olga,  i strained my neck to do so). But, even more importantly for me was the night that my children and i were watching all of the Cardinals assembled in the awesome Sistine Chapel, where they were praying and discussing which one they should elect the New Pope. History in the Making, i remember feeling so darned proud, as the first 100 or so marched in with such stern faces. Sure, it was understandable with the magnitude of their decision at hand! But then came our own Timothy Dolan!!! i say so with no disrespect, but rather because – and my kids were so thrilled about it – our Big Man walked in like a little boy, into that room where i myself have been many times as a witness to its MAGNITUDE! He was the only one with that most appropriate expression of utter awe, his eyes popping out like a tourist’s in his Manhattan. His Spirit Uncontainable! Pope Francis has said it til he’s blue-in-the-face, that this is the kind of soul we need to shoot New Life into the Church and into a growingly hopeless world. A CHILD’S AWE AT THE ULTIMATE MYSTERY OF GOD’S LOVE!

i found AMAZING GRACE in the onions…

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GRACE IN THE ONIONS/A Letter to the Pope

My Holy Father/my Holy Friend,

It happened recently at our market. Just as my hand reached in to grab a big juicy onion, so did hers. It was Grace, SWEET GRACE!!! Thirty-three years or so have passed since her last confession to me (she was a regular customer, when i was a priest), but it was as if that had been just yesterday. And so, like yesterday, the RIVER IMMEDIATELY BEGAN TO FLOW!!! She exploded into tears, gracing my cheeks down to my chest with love divine. Maybe it was the onions? Maybe it was our Common Passion for the Mercy of God.

Almost by routine, right there amid the onions and potatos, Gracie began to “confess” – tears now like Niagara – how she’s been away from the Church soooo long. Of course there was no mention of (what i know already) tragedy upon terrible tragedy that struck her life from every side, making it barely possible for her to practice her faith like once upon a time – as is the case of so many wounded souls in the Great Field. i stopped her from the Get-Go, “Whoa, Friend! Wait!! You know i’m not a priest anymore. i traded for a wife and six children. i have no power left to wipe away sins!!” And do you know what she said to that? She said, “YOU will always be my priest, and it will be more than enough for me to hear you say, as you always did, ‘HOW LOVED YOU ARE, DEAR GRACE! How loved we are, NO MATTER WHAT! And it’s ALL THAT MATTERS, TRULY!'”

Oh, Pope Francis! i need not tell YOU! You, above all men!! But i just love to tell you, right here from the onions, how desperately the Good People of God LONG FOR THAT LOVE and want to hear this simple message of Mercy over and over and over again. You often say, dear Teacher, that each and every man and woman needs to be brought – by Life – to that Deep Well Within, to this Gushing Gift of Tears. Or maybe an Italian lady such as my Grace would prefer to describe it as Life’s Endless Entry into the Layers of the “Great Onion” with ITS WELL of tears, the Encounter with AMAZING GRACE ITSELF, or should we  IMG_20160403_122434027_HDR (1)

say HIMSELF/HERSELF, the Very HEART OF GOD.

No priest can ever receive a more precious gift than to have such tears, human and divine co-mingling, pour out upon his face and shoulders by a person who is meeting this God FACE-to-FACE in Mercy. Gracie bathed me so many times in the past – and WOW! Now again, reminding me as she did that we, each and every one of us shares in a Royal Priesthood, and Jesus, the Founder of this Priesthood, somehow knew how important it was, humans being flesh and blood and sweat and tears, that MERCY BE EXPERIENCED in the flesh and tears.

YOU, Holy Father, have given this FACE OF MERCY to our Old Church once again. i could never express in words how proud i am of you, how thankful, and HOW PLEASED i am that the Whole World Has Received You, has EMBRACED YOU for this reason. Today is the Feast which your predecessor, Pope Saint John Paul II, made sure to establish before he died. INDEED, Amazing As It Sounds, he passed from this life to the next ON THIS FEAST, HIS FEAST, OF DIVINE MERCY.

Three Easters ago, on your first Easter as the Pope, you put out a cry to the whole world for “All Hands On Deck,” for every man, woman, and child to join you in this all-important task of FIRST: Meeting Mercy, of Going to God in brokenness and sin, to be healed…and then SECONDLY: of Bringing that Healing Grace to what you described as “all of the wounded in the field hospitals of the earth.” The part of you of which i am the MOST PROUD is how you traded our “Old Church Definition” of APOLOGY, that of a “Defense of our Beliefs No Matter What” to the other definition of the word. It is the understanding, the definition, which most people have, this beautiful manner and practice that you have. Most Simply Put – We are all so imperfect, so hurt and broken, that we can just never tire of saying, “I’m Sorry,” and, then, after being forgiven ten thousand times, being so happy to forgive others… IMG_20160403_133410849

We are all such a mess, “knuckleheads” i like to say, but the HOPE OF ALL THE EARTH, as both you and your Capuchin Preacher, Fr. Cantalamessa, put it last week, “THE ONLY TRUE HOPE OF THIS WORLD LIES IN MERCY.”

My dear friend, Lisa Codner-O’Flaherty, just sent to me from her “place on top of the world, St. John’s, Newfoundland,” the perfect image of Divine Mercy, that ONE THING we can be even surer of than of our sinfulness, the LOVE THAT NEVER ENDS! Amen. Alleluia! God Bless and Keep You, Holy Father. BUONA FESTA di AMORIS LAETITIA!

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knucklehead.

CELEBRATING ON…

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EASTER IS A FEAST that is Celebrated On and On and On – for 50 Days, in fact, in our Church. And to be honest it is THE Feast, the Reason we celebrate every day of our lives, believing that even those we have loved, and who have passed from us, have only passed to another state. We all remain together FOREVER because of Easter.

i just have to share this reflection that i found in church on Easter Sunday. i am sure that Sr. Melannie Svoboda, S.N.D., who wrote it, will not mind my borrowing and sharing. It is so great. She wrote of a little boy, a first grader, who was asked what Jesus’ Resurrection means, and he answered, “that Jesus is Loose!”

Yes, Jesus is Unbound, Released, Set Free. This means that he can show up anywhere and at any time in our lives, just as he did to those early followers. He could come into our lives looking like a gardener or as a stranger we meet as we walk along the road. Jesus could show up as a cashier in the grocery store, the man who changes the oil in your car, your co-worker in the office, our doctor, a good friend. He is likely to show up in a spouse or in your child or grandchild. Pope Francis will often remind us that Jesus is often alive and well in a grandmother or grandfather – with so much wisdom to share along the way. Yes, Jesus is Loose. Be on the lookout for him today. You might have already found him staring at you in your bathroom mirror.

This is part of the WONDER of the RESURRECTION. Like a New Cataclysmic Explosion of Creation!!! New Life seeks to reach and fill every fraction of the Universe, and Jesus is Everywhere…like the billions of candy eggs that were cast around…for the finding, for the taking.

Jesus, help me to SEE YOU in the people I meet today. And help me to BE YOU for the people I meet today.

For many many millions the only encounter they may have with the Gospel of Jesus is through our words or deeds of Mercy.

BEAUTIFUL CITY

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When you look upon an image like this, you can’t tell whether the sun is coming or going?! Or which is the original and which the reflection?!?! The Summer of ’68 was like that for me. My whole world was turned upside-down. I lost my dear friend Bobby – along with a heckuvalotta hope img_20161115_081130

But only days later I found a new Bobby, who was destined to be my very best of friends. This one’s for him! But let me introduce him with his favorite story…

On Easter Sunday two years later, a passionate young man named John-Michael Tebelak went to Church for the Great Celebration. He heard of a Son of God Who LOVED SO MUCH that He was willing even to “Become Sin, though He Himself had never sinned…” taking all sin upon Himself and into a grave so that it could conquered by Love. What a Story! Surely the Greatest that could ever be told! But John-Michael FELT NOTHING of it in that Church that day. He pretty much experienced a crowd that got stuck in Friday, stuck on a Cross, as Good as it was. As Good as it was, it wasn’t Easter, it wasn’t REBORN!! What was wrong with those people around him? Why weren’t they FLIPPING OUT!?!?!? That day he became bound and determined to bring THE GOOD NEWS OF JESUS back to the modern world, and he went home and began to create GODSPELL. He would later team up with a musical genius named Stephen Schwartz, and BAM! The Christ had “risen again.”

i was in the seminary at the time, though home on vacation in the summers. That first summer that “Godspell” was on tour, i was so fortunate to see it at the Ford Theatre in Washington – even sitting very close to Abraham Lincoln’s last seat. A wonderful priest who understood the power and relevance of this show brought me and my girl Annie Martin there. Fr. Paul Graney!!! WHAT A GUY! Wow, i even felt that Great ABE had Resurrected to be with us all again!!! He and his Mary were dancing in the aisle with Sts. Peter and John.

But there was no place i ever experienced “Godspell” better than in my big seminary brother, BOB GRIX. He embodied the message, body and soul. He was Christ Reborn in the heart of the city. He had one goal in life, the same as Tebelak, to bring that Good News of Love and Mercy to the good but struggling people around him. As priest-friars Bobby and i were together some years in Da Bronx, New York, on Gun Hill Road. And while it sure was true to its name in those days, Bobby, who grew up in that very neighborhood, always saw passed the guns and violence and drugs and grime, to the GOOD, to the SUN that was always shining, however many clouds tried to cover Him. During several years that we lived and worked together, we often had “Godspell” playing on a cassette in the car, especially our favorite, “Beautiful City.” How often he helped me to find such beauty in places where there seemed to be none. We would sing every song to the tops of our lungs, bound and determined to join in that great challenge of building.

In 1990 i took a different path, leaving my Bobby on Easter morning in the parking lot on Gun Hill Road with a giant hug and many a tear. i went out in search for “the other half of me,” hoping to have a wife and children some day. Fr. Robert stayed, this DYNAMO of a Capuchin Priest, a legend among his people for his passion in preaching and in reenacting the Gospels in the modern cities….until one Christmas, of all days, my dear brother was suddenly overcome by a stroke, which left him pretty much paralyzed and barely able to speak, but for some most precious phrases.

Dag Hammarskjold, the Secretary General of the United Nations who was killed on a mission of Mercy, had written in his Journal, “There is no separating Christmas from Calvary, the Crib from the Cross.” As speechless as Bobby’s suffering was, he knew from the start that his time had come to enter that part of his Jesus’ life and to carry a very heavy cross for many many years. Sad and suffering as it was for all of us who knew him, it was in a way the greatest joy in my life to share my Bobby with my wife and children, who came to adore him, as he did them.

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Music was a key to Fr. Bob, as my children learned immediately, and immediately they shared their modern world with him in the form of an ipod, on which they entered most of his favorite tunes, including those of “Godspell.” On many days it lifted him to ecstasy. It gave him a Strength Beyond Words to carry on, to suffer through…

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After life’s long journey with this precious guy, the first one to greet me on the steps of the seminary in August ’68, he stayed close to me to the end, never judging, only loving. True Friend! True Blue. When we took this picture of him, he was listening to Olivia Newton-John, his favorite, “I HONESTLY LOVE YOU.” He HONESTLY loved! i wrote to her all about him, his devotion, his pure love. She wrote back – a love letter to him – but it arrived days after he died. They will sing together side by side in heaven some day…in the Beautiful City.

Uncle Bobby gave to my Van and Molly, of course, one priceless gift, a copy of the movie, “Godspell,” (though more than anything they recall those back-breaking hugs – or nothing at all! LOL;  try to get away with a handshake, and you were in trouble!) That’s the way he had always been on his home turf, da Bronx! Da ding is, he already saw “the Beautiful City” in all of those people, the good and the “bad” ones, and he knew that he just had to get it all out of them, this Wonder of God. With strong yet gentle love he worked to “have them be who they already were, the children of God!” That was how he always saw it, as simple as that! Simple, yes, but tough! And tough he could be, though he never knew just how tough that really was.

i always found it most interesting how something most profound happened to “Godspell” around pretty much the same time as this tragedy to my Bobby. America found itself whipped by terrible waves of violence, hatred, and terror, battering his dream so badly that Stephen Schwartz was moved to rewrite his “Beautiful City,” replacing what he himself has called “drippy lyrics” with some much more profound, pointing to how the City is actually built out of intense pain, with so much shedding of blood and sweat and tears. “Out of the ruins and rubble” it will RISE UP! Little did Stephen know how he was writing a tribute to Fr. Robert Grix, who would be to his own great surprise Building the Great City along with the millions who ride in wheelchairs or who just lie in hospital or nursing home beds, many who can do little more than smile – with true smiles from the soul, as they feel utterly one with the Christ. That day at Ford Theatre i recall a section set apart for the handicapped, and i saw in their eyes more than in anyone else’s such a pride to be part of John-Michael and Stephen’s dream. God’s Dream, of course, Death, Resurrection, New Life, Never Giving Up! Ehhhh, Bobby?

i have spoken to Stephen’s lawyers about using his lyrics here or in a book i wrote about Bob. There are all kinds of legalities, so it’s easier to simply direct you to YouTube and to the absolutely incredible rendition of “Beautiful City” by Hunter Parrish. It often put my friend into that state of bliss, and it gave him great great confidence that his suffering was not in vain but rather truly useful to God in the building of the City. If you want to visit the heart of Bobby  – still very much alive today – go there.

And Hey, HAPPY EASTER, EVERYBODY!!!