DUSTMAN SEES ALL

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We’ve come again to the Pinnacle of our Christian calendar, the Crescendo of the Show – of the Season that began nearly 40 days ago when ashes were marked on foreheads to that ancient lyric: “Remember, man, that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

If you go to any Broadway show or to a concert or big sports event nowadays, it’s so hard to get a good seat unless you have lots of money. Whoever coined the phrase, “The best things in life are free,” must have known places like my secret hangout. For 25 years since i settled in the awesome Hudson River Valley of New York,it has been one of my favorite places to go and just sit, pray, contemplate, and commune with Nature – with one of the hardest-to-beat views of the mountain-valley-river + sunsets combination which is uniquely ours. And all these years i have shared it, that is, i have been able to share it with my good buddy, who once upon a time picked this perfect spot to rest. And so humbly, so simply, so wonderfully he marked his spot, DUSTMAN! What a perfect name! So, although it was a husband and wife, Peter, who died in 1944 and Jennie, who passed in 1955,  they decided to add no other words, no dates, so that it might as well read EVERYMAN! And their spot belong to us all, inviting us at any time to sit, to pray, to enjoy….with Peter and Jennie floating like pure clouds overhead.

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It’s as if the owner of this plot wanted anyone who found it to feel perfectly welcome to share the peace – as long as they are open to that Truth of truths, the same formula that St. Francis found in his mountaintop cell above Assisi. “Remember you are dust, and to dust – today, tomorrow, who knows? but DO KNOW – you shall return.” In other words, “There is one God, and His Name is not me.”

NOW THIS ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF OUR DUSTINESS NEED NOT BE A RECIPE FOR MORBIDITY! Rather, let it be THE TICKET to the Best Seat on Earth and Life of Joyful Celebration with all of the other creatures and plants, who do not bother with fancy clothes or jewelry. We are BEAUTIFUL ENOUGH. My buddy behind this stone (or under it) tells me on every visit WE ARE MAGICAL, MYSTICAL, FABULOUS, SPARKLY, SACRED, BEJEWELED DUST. Dustman sees all!!!!! His view is infinitely grander than even mine.    (An after-thought: Funny, but just after i posted this blog, my wife came home with the story of a stranger who had just bought her and others their coffees at our local cafe. His reason: everyone needs a “sparkle” every now and then!) The “sparkle” in our earthly dust, then, is but a glimpse of what will shine forth from us there.

AGAIN this dusty old truth should never spell gloom – just as i have blogged over and over throughout this Lent. This constant theme of Pope Francis (who, i just read, was voted the most popular, beloved person on the planet), this CONSTANT THEME being the primary reason: “IF FAITH IS NOT A JOY, then Faith is not real!!!” There has been a nice sign outside my Church throughout these forty days: IMG_20160302_181714495 (1)

that is missing something CRITICAL. It lists the ingredients of a good Lent, but it leaves out the ALL-IMPORTANT WORD, the One that binds them all together into a Beautiful Bouquet for God, JOY!!!

If there is not JOY, i love to say, then we run the risk of becoming Praying Mantises, those big bugs that appear so nice and holy, kneeling in prayer, when their prayer is only: “Lord, give me some nice juicy little bug to KILL AND EAT; or 5 of them would be better!”

10446707_672979706116662_2968981140978224765_n (1)Whoever named them spelled it wrong – should be Preying Mantis. But aren’t we often just as guilty in our prayers? How often my penance is more a penance of those around me, lifeless, loveless, joyless rituals that end in my being judgmental or gossipy, KILLING and devouring others’ good names or reputations, all under the disguise of holiness.

That is not what the Dustman teaches. He is humility, he is Gratitude, he is JOY! Thank you, my most quiet companion.

HAPPY END OF LENT TO ALL OF YOU. HAPPY HIGHEST HOLY DAYS> EASTER ALLELUIAS and JOYS ETERNAL – from the Dustmen on the Hudson Hill!

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The Mystery of a Picture such as this, if the onlooker does not know, is whether it is a Sunrise or a Sunset, and that is the Mystery of these Holiest Days, the Ends are the Beginnings, Death is Life!!! FOREVER.

 

SAY IT…SING IT…HUM IT

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At the beginning of Lent i posted a blog about a little boy i met, who thought he’d done something unforgivable – committed the ultimate sin – when he said Alleluia during Lent. He had heard somebody, a priest, a nun, a parent, say, “During these 40 days you should never say that word. These are days of remorse (meaning “sorrow for sin.”)

i told the boy, “HOGWASH!” The very definition of “Christian” is “a sinner saved” (though there is a famous gent, who has his eyes set on the White House, who seems to have broken that mold!) One must NEVER EVER NEVER FORGET the SAVED part, or one will surely sink.

Like the time the Apostles were in the boat on the Sea of Galilee and were caught up in a terrible storm, the waves crashing and rocking them. They were in a heavy fog and scared for their lives, when all of a sudden here comes Jesus WALKING on the water. He said, “Do not be afraid. Come on. Come to Me. You can do it, too!” And Peter started to do it, WALK ON WATER. As long as he focused on the Savior, he was ok. The instant that he focused on himself or on the stormy water, i.e. on his weakness and sinfulness, he sank. It all has to do with where you set your eyes.

NEVER stop saying that word – or at least whispering it, during Lent. Or maybe you could just HUM IT. The version that so so many people love the most is that of Leonard Cohen, the wonderful Canadian poet/songwriter. People relate to it, people love it, because he says that ours are Hallelujahs that are broken, busted, dirty, grimy, covered in blood and sweat and tears and ashes…but still standing, crooked, mangled, twisted by life but still pointing to the sky – and to the SAVIOR. Our Best Alleluias are those.

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Or how about the one and only Dion of the Belmonts from my beloved Bronx, who loves to call the Psalms of King David the ORIGINAL and SOME OF THE VERY BEST of the Blues, prayer-filled songs that flow out of the deep dark river of the broken, battered human soul as it cries out for Love and the Peace that Only Love and Mercy can bring.

So, say it, sing it, hum it…Just don’t ever forget it! (Even BEFORE Easter) Alleluia, Amen!

THE DAY OF THE BRANCHES

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The Holiest Days of the year for Christians around the world starts with the Day of the Branches. It is named after the palms that were waved at the entrance to the Holy City to say “Hello” to Jesus. But those little palmies really point to the Bigger Branches and the BIGGER MEANINGS, especially the City’s FAREWELL to Him. 12593841_1576736829320081_1778274624865361532_o

When i was a littler boy, i was more like a monkey, drawn to the trees, always out for a climb and a perch, my favorite being the backyard beauty of Rick and Bill Schneider. i could have lived there. i could have died there. Remember, Ricky? Remember, Billy? Wherever you are? Those were the days!

When i went into Central Park to meet the visiting Pope Francis – and found myself smothered by 100,000 other curious, wonderful humans – my immediate thought was to climb up one of those awesome sycamores and then out, out, out on a mighty limb, so to look down upon that precious man, just like Zacchaeus did to Jesus.

THAT’s the moment when Jesus’ troubles started. His response to that little monkey, when he invited himself into Zacchaeus’ home – and his broken, stormy, unhappy life – was ACTUALLY a GOING OUT ON A LIMB FOR HIM. It was the way he treated such hated men as Mr. Z that got Jesus into more and more trouble with the people, especially the head honchos. And how about what Jesus did for that woman, who was caught in the very act of adultery? Forget about the guy, he must’ve just slipped away. Nobody said anything about him. But the lady???!!! They all said, “Perfect!! Here’s a perfect way to kill two birds with one stone. Let’s ask Jesus what he thinks we should do, let’s get him to insult our SACRED LAW.” So, they put it to him, only to have him turn the guns on them…”Go ahead, throw it! By all means, get her! But, let the sinless man cast the number one.” They went away…one by one…but fuming, humiliated, all planning on another day to get their revenge.

IMG_20160322_151023255 Yep! Out he went on another limb, way way way way out, scary time (i’ve been there in the trees), out to save her – by simply pointing to the MOST SACRED LAW, the ONLY ONE that really counts, MERCY! LOVE!

And for this there was a big, thick, ugly branch waiting for him – outside the Holy City, where thousands greeted him with love and cheers, only to turn on him with hate and louder cheers. Scariest of all scary branches, IMG_20160318_145946406_HDR

he hugged it, perfectly innocent though he was,  just as he hugged all the others.

And now that monstrosity is worn around the necks of billions with loving gratitude. Think of it! If he had come in 20th century USA, we’d all be wearing a gold or silver electric-chair charm on our necks or wrists. But as it was the Roman Way that he chose to deal with his CRAZY LOVE, it is the BRANCH we love, the BRANCH we CELEBRATE this Holy Week, this SUNDAY OF THE BRANCHES!

WHEN THE SILENT IS SO LOUD

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Probably the first Saint that i ever truly loved, long before i even knew about Francis, was the Saint that is celebrated throughout the world on March 19, JOSEPH!!! Oh, how beloved he is in every land!

The Quiet Man, the humble man. How many of his words do we know? Amazing, right!? But, in Silence he spoke so loudly about Strength…and Dignity…and Love…Joseph the Carpenter who taught his Son to respect, to revere, to love the Wood.

This week i was working for a man who owns some apartments. We’ve been fixing them up for new tenants. i came upon a big ole ancient nail, which everyone agreed is good-for-nothin’, everybody but me. To me it told the Story of St. Joseph!!

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What good is a nail that’s rusty and bent and not even sharp anymore? To do its work, the nail must, most of all, be straight. i am sure that Joseph of Nazareth knew this quite well. But, while his Son, Jesus, was hanging on the Cross, mostly in excruciating Silence, and he looked down into the face of his Sweet Mother, i am certain that he thought back to his dear daddy, who taught him how to Love that Wood, to embrace that wood – BUT WHO, no doubt, TAUGHT HIM THAT LIFE WILL VERY OFTEN BREAK FROM THE RULE of carpentry! It will make no sense many times; it will demand a CRAZINESS, a LOVE that is stronger than the strongest nail, whose task can only be completed by the bending, bending just to the point of breaking.

i was born the same year that Art Clokey gave birth to Gumby. When i look back over my 62 years, i can find hardly a better example of “What It’s All About” than that little green guy. i still have mine 1112152011

When St. Joseph was asked by God’s Angel to follow this plan and to be the father of Jesus, everything in Joseph’s mind, heart, and soul went against it. NO WAY, GOD!!! You are asking a straight nail to bend!!!! This is out of the question. This is insane! But he did it. And in his humble silence he spoke louder than most about TRUE LOVE. Life don’t follow the laws of the carpenter shop. The Greatest among us will be the BENDERS.

As much as i love my own dad, and as much as i regret that my children never got to meet or know  that wonderful man, who died so young, i am equally happy that my children did come to meet, to know, and to adore (“to know him was to love him”) one of my dearest friends and “brothers-thru-faith,” Father Bob Grix, Capuchin Friar. Oh, but they never knew him in his “dynamo days,” when he was so active, such an amazing preacher and director of Passion Plays, surrounded by mobs of kids who fell in love with Jesus because of Bobby’s Love for Him. Suddenly one Christmas this inspirational priest was struck down by a powerful stroke, which left him struggling to move and barely able to speak anymore, except a few choice, wonderful words or phrases. And this is how he lived for many, many years. And this was the Bobby Grix that became their life’s HERO and precious darling pal. We would go so often to visit him in the friary/nursing home, to eat with him, play games with him (which he usually won), and mostly to DRAW GREAT STRENGTH from his great WEAKNESS, great Light from his great Darkness.

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St. Francis was famous for saying to his Brothers, “Let us go into the world and preach the Good News of Jesus…” And they would follow him…sometimes through an entire city, where he would not say a word. (But people would be lit up by the light that shone from them, so he would later add, “And occasionally we will use words.”Ha ha! What a guy!) Father Bob didn’t need words anymore. Though yes, he did have a couple of doozies that SAID IT ALL, especially his favorites, OH WOW!! Oh how he savored life and friendship, music and food, faith and hope and love. We often say in Church that it all comes down to One Word, the most important word we’ve learned, that tiny word, AMEN. It simply means YES, to whatever happens, to whatever comes my way. i accept it, i’ll take it, i’ll go with it, i’ll learn to bend – like Joseph and Mary and Jesus and Bobby, if the Heavenly Dad so wills it!

As readers of this blog know, i am always referring to my trusty companion, Rudy the Beagle. And so, here again is why we love our dogs so much, like St. Joseph so quietly constant in their faithful love. The truest love needs no words. And this is seen never as much as it is in their later or last days, as is the case with our Rudy, so weak but so strong in the silence of love.

Amen.

OFF TO JAIL

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Recently i found myself in the middle of one of those telephone scams, this one involving the IRS – Scaaaaaaary! They told me that i owed taxes in 2010 and that they wrote and told me (which did seem to jolt a memory), but because i did not respond, federal agents were coming to arrest me and put me in jail for 30 days. Now, i did not believe it; this was not real….or let me say that for a little while, i did let myself (and so did my wife) “go with it.” i honestly entertained the thought for an hour or so.

Years ago…as a priest, i worked in a number of prisons, and on my very first visit i bumped into a child who was also on a visit to see his dad. Eyeing me head to toe in my priest robe, he said, “I KNOW WHO YOU ARE! YOU’RE THE JUDGE!” i then regaled this tale with every inmate i met, getting us acquainted with a laugh and assuring him that i was NO JUDGE, only a brother, often quoting a beloved New York prison chaplain, Father Licata, who always said, “The only difference between you guys and me is that you got caught.”  Never once have i gone through a day without believing that, and so the prospect of myself behind bars, at least for a little while, has always been somewhere in my soul.

FOR EXAMPLE!!!! Having been on the receiving end so many times of the brunt of American Capitalism, i know that i deserve at least 30 days for willingly participating for 20+ years in similar crimes against humanity. As the Director of a hospital laboratory i cannot say how many thousands of times i just went along with “the American Way,” drawing blood or urine for a test that cost us $2.50 for which we charged $30, or a drug screen for which we paid $18, then took $200 out of their “flesh,” all in the name of “We Care For You” but really all so that our CEOs could get richer and fatter and richer. So, PLEASE, somebody, CUFF me now…finally…i surrender. Take me to that place where i can do a little thinking and praying and begging for mercy. A friend of mine (yes, from this lovely health care industry) was recently sentenced to some years after getting swallowed by the greed and money-lust. i often try to imagine what is going on inside his head – or more so, in his soul???

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i spent some of the best time in my life in Assisi amid the Umbrian hills of central Italy. My two favorite places from the life of St. Francis were the one way down in the depth of its valley, the Portiuncola, the tiny church he rebuilt and called his home…AND the place at the tippity top of the mountain, the place he called CARCERI, meaning his “JAIL!””I surely deserve some time in there,” he thought to himself as well!! He had already done serious time as a P.O.W. in a hideous prison, suffering intensely almost unto death. But, upon returning to his life with a new – or budding – outlook on everything, he seems to have seen how “valuable” a prison can be. And so, he made his own! WAY WAY WAY UP on Mount Subasio above his city. He did it in part out of his knowledge of himself as SINNER in constant need of supervision, and he did it until he could learn to see through different eyes. From that highest perch, for example, he could look down on his beloved city all wrapped in a wall and wonder a thousand times, “Ma chi è veramente libero, e chi è imprigionato?” “Just who is really free, and who is imprisoned?” Unless one is “Free in God,” is one ever free at all? Eventually his most trusted companions wanted prisons of their own.

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If you ever have the amazing grace to climb Subasio, something i would recommend more than anything else you could buy in life, you will see the other name they gave to Francis’ prison cell: IMG_20160308_093644475_HDR

The Jail became a Very, Very Holy Place, where man met God, where a little man knelt so simply before his Maker and said, “i am who i am in YOUR SIGHT, nothing more” and rose with such a freedom that he must have felt capable of joining the famous larks that ride the holy winds above that city. It’s funny, but when you climb back down and head into town and come to the place where the Bernardone Family lived…and you look upon some kind of cage where the rich and powerful father of Francis once put the young man, whom the dad called “PAZZO! CRAZY” To THINK – it was while in that tiny prison cell that that little bird was quite free!

i guess one could say, there are jails all around us – and within us. No one needs to travel far to find one. It’s “Off to Jail;” or, maybe, “Don’t Move, Stay Where You Are!” Whether the feds come to cuff me or not, i like to see the holy season of Lent as a time for self-confinement and re-reflection on what imprisons me now??? and what i must do to fly again??? i always can use some time in jail!!! Perhaps one feels as if he or she is inside the biggest, ugliest “joint” right here, right now? with oneself in the roles of jailed and warden and guard and even bars of steel ALL AT ONCE. Let’s pray for each other and the gift of the truly free.

LIVING THE GREEN

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ISN’T MY MOLLY AMAZING!?!

For the newest art project her teacher told the students to present something prehistoric. My little Irish girl over-looked the usual dinosaur, went back 270 million years, and found something which IS STILL HERE, as wonderful, as fresh  – and as GREEN – as ever, the Gingko. How fitting for the month of Spring, the month of St. Paddy, the month of the GREEN!! One of my very favorites of all of God’s various Names: St. Augustine’s “O Beauty Ever Ancient Yet Ever New!”

Don’t you just feel yourself drawn into Molly’s Serenity? Her gingkos point us to that most pre-historic of all Beings, the One Who forever dwells in every human heart and soul.

The place where Augustine learned that Name was at the end of a long, long road LOST. “Late have I loved you, O Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you!  You were within, but I was outside, seeking there for you. Upon the shapely things you have made
I rushed headlong, I, misshapen. You were with me but I was not with you. They held me back far from you, those things which would have no being were they not in you.

You called, you shouted, you broke through my deafness;
you flared, you blazed, you banished my blindness;
you lavished your fragrance, I gasped, and now I pant for you;
I tasted you, and I now hunger and thirst;
you touched me, and now I burn for your peace.”

WOW!!!! Could that man turn a phrase!!!! Many years later a much simpler saint, Francis, here seen in the second known portrait of him (what he really looked like) summed it all up, weeping: “How can SUCH GREAT LOVE go unloved?”IMG_20160306_104306795

The NUMERO UNO, absolute, crucial, critical, essential, very most important thing in any person’s (or any creature’s) life, as this SimplestSaintSawIt, was staying in Union with the Source of All Life, All Good, All Beauty. To Francis the only time when one is in trouble is not when he or she is destitute or ill or faced with a sword or imprisoned or tortured BUT ONLY when, and to the extent that, one is AWAY FROM THE VINE. As Molly presents it again: IMG_20160306_111720937

One could stay EVERGREEN whatever the season or the tribulation, so long as one stays focused on that Infinite Source. When i see the Green, i think of LIFE. My buddy, Gerry Schnell, reminds of Pope John Paul II who begged the human race on his knees to always seek LIFE, not death. “Do not follow any leaders who train you in the ways of inflicting death. Love Life, Respect Life, in yourself and in others. Give yourself to the service of Life, not the work of death.”

Molly’s Majestic Gingkos remind me of my second favorite action of new Pope Francis. The first, of course, was THE FIRST, when, newly elected, he stood before the People of God and instead of giving them his blessing, he bowed to them and asked for theirs. WOW! i knew we were in for a great ride. But what a move he made that December when he went to what was always seen as “the Great Vatican Christmas Office Party,” where everyone exchanges hugs and baci, little gifts and pleasantries, nicee nice…BUT ALL OF A sudden BAM! A Mega-Explosion! Pope Francis uses the party, which is held during Advent, which is New Year’s on the Church calendar, to say, “It’s time for some serious resolutions!!!!!!” He then addressed the Great Head of the Catholic Church, the Vatican Curia, as suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease or Dementia, because they had FORGOTTEN what really truly matters, not rules and regulations, not money-making or laundering, not power or prestige, but only Love, Compassion, Care for the Poor and Homeless, in his favorite of words, Misericordia in Italian, MERCY!

Botanists and scientists have always believed that the Gingko contains properties to combat dementia and to keep us fresh and young. Pope Francis, like his namesake and the famous sinner-saved, Augustine, pointed all of us, beginning with himself and his fellow shepherds, to that “BEAUTY EVER ANCIENT, EVER NEW” as the ONE & ONLY SOURCE of Eternal Youth and Perpetual GREEN! He is the Pope of Mercy and of HOPE, the green Papa.

Isn’t my Molly AMAZING?! And i can’t think of a better song to go with her masterpiece than the peaceful, haunting chant of Michael Stillwater, “May We All Return…” i recommend it to everyone (http://www.songwithoutborders.net/filmseries.html). These saints, and all the saints, would have us at the start and end and CENTER of every day somehow “Return There to the Place of the Heart, of the Soul”, to RENEW OUR GREENNESS. For years i have “suffered” from an intense tinnitus, i.e. Ringing in the Ear. i say “suffer” meaning that it is a lovely constant call or reminder that hardly any of the “crap” that is going on in the world around me really matters much. What counts is the Inner Harmony; again, Augustine, “I searched for you outside, and there you were…always and forever…within.”

My friend, Michael Stillwater:

 

AAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!

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My first thought was to send a note to my sisters and a couple of friends….but then i felt it blog-worthy!

When Jesus told his little parable, his focus was on the JOY of Finding something Lost. He spoke of a woman who’d lost a dime (or something equivalent), and when she found it, she invited all of her friends over to have a big party to celebrate. Who knows what she spent on the party? and who cares!? What mattered was only that SHE FOUND IT!!!!

i find myself at this moment just having to tell the world (and this blog has reached every continent except the penguins down below): REJOICE WITH ME, as i have found something worth a million dimes! i wish you could ALL come over, including a Waddle of Penguins!

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For almost two months i lost my senses of smell and taste. Just now i got my first good whiff since Christmas Day of these EXTRAORDNARY ordinary spices of nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves. For days i was beginning to lose hope that from that first sip of coffee as the sun comes up to that last sliver of pizza crust, from one tiny Goober to a steep pile of pancakes, i would never know the glory again.

How WONDERFUL to lose anything – but especially something so precious as one’s senses, as long as we find it again. Then we REMEMBER….and we SAVOR how incredibly BLESSED we are!!!!!!!

Come on, Waddlers. Let’s dance, cuz i’m in Heaven! “Oh, i love to climb a mountain and to reach the highest peak, but it doesn’t thrill me half as much as” SIPPIN ON SOME TEA!

And i pray, God, never let me take one sniff, one taste for granted.