Living between the lines

The Church that Jesus Built is awesome. It’s filled with miracles, with saints by the thousands, and with countless stories of faith-filled heroism. Its boundaries are the outstretched arms of the one and only God, who allowed Himself to be humiliated by His own creation; to be tortured and killed so that He could show us that our Earthly lives are just the beginning. Since the dawn of creation, the Church has been the “Greatest Story Ever Told.”
But most of the Church’s story is never told. Most of what takes place under the big tent of Christianity will never be written about, or spoken about, or made into a movie directed by Cecil B. DeMille. God is truly with us, and because He is with us, the majority of His work is the work of day to day living. It’s not the epic stuff of Moses talking to a fiery shrub, or St. Paul getting knocked off his horse on the road to Damascus. It’s not even Pope Francis tweaking the egos of the College of Cardinals. It’s doing the dishes for your wife just because. It’s calling old Aunt Tess to ask about her day. It’s turning to God with a problem while you’re at work and listening for a bit of small inspiration to get you through. It’s slogging through your day and remembering to take Him with you.
Sometimes I read Jesus’ admonition to “be perfect,” and I despair because…well, I’m just not. Sometimes I read the lives of the Saints and wish that I had that kind of faith. I read about Fatima and dream that maybe I could be there for the next one. I want the drama, I want the excitement of the Big Story.
Then God gives me a little poke in the side. He whispers a sentence or two to guide my writing. I blow the dust off the cover of my Bible and read the Book of James. And I’m inspired. “Faith without works is dead,” is a pretty simple and profound motto to live by. I turn to Him with a worry about my wife, daughter, son or friend and within a day that worry evaporates. Or he simply makes the sun rise in a particularly beautiful way.
The Bible was never meant to be the whole story. The stories of Jesus, of Abraham, and all the others in the Bible are just small slices, quick glimpses of the lives that they lived. As John the Apostle said in chapter 21 of Revelation: “There are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.” But that doesn’t mean the other stuff, the stuff that was not written down, is any less wondrous. God gives us the Bible as a tool, a source of inspiration. But God gives us something much greater than the Bible. He gives us his presence throughout our day, and through all of our ordinary, non-heroic little lives. God is with us between the lines.


Nothing but a prayer

It’s Monday again. The weekend is over, the Packer’s lost to the 49’ers, the Badgers crushed Tennessee Tech, the lawn got mowed, the flowers weeded and we went to mass yesterday morning. A typical weekend, or as The Monkees might have said back in the 1970’s, “Another Pleasant Valley Sunday.” Except that millions of Christians, Muslims and Jews came together around the world to pray for peace.

Did Saturday’s day of prayer for peace in Syria make a difference? All prayers make a difference. No, the guns weren’t magically silenced, but seeds have been planted. Now we need to water them. Keep praying, Christian Revolutionaries. God is listening and the world is changing, whether you can see it or not.

C.S. Lewis said that prayer doesn’t change God, it changes me. Prayer moves us closer to the center of creation, which is Jesus. Regardless of when God chooses to guide Syria back to sanity, the most important seed of all is this one: On Saturday, we joined hands with our brothers and sisters all around the world, and the world took one giant step closer to that center. That was the first miracle; I can’t wait to see the next ones.

They Found the “miracle priest”

I’m sure many of you have been following the Missouri news story about the”miracle priest,” who seemingly appeared and then disappeared from the scene of a serious car accident. For several days, media all over the world were abuzz with speculation about this apparent angel who did not show up in any photographs of the scene, and was known to no one. He showed up, said a prayer with the victim and rescuers, and was gone.

It turns out that he is a real flesh and blood pastor from a real parish. Father Patrick Dowling from Jefferson City, Missouri happened to be driving that particular highway that particular day and stopped to offer help. In his words, “I did what every priest I know would have done.”

So, no angel from heaven, no “divine intervention,” on this one. But, wait just one second. Before we all turn and walk away, I think it’s worth reading Fr. Dowling’s story. Take a second to follow this link to a Catholic News Service article about it.

Now that’s a miracle.

God is a foodie

Today’s readings were guaranteed to get my attention: they talk about food. God tells Moses in the old testament and the Christian disciples in the new testament that providing for everyone may be a challenge for us, but it’s a snap for God. He also tells us that His menu is unlimited.

In chapter eleven of the Book of Numbers Moses is despairing (again) about the Israelites who were complaining (again) about food. By now they’d been wandering around in the desert for several years, and the miracle of the manna that fell from heaven every night had grown old. We’re tired of bread, bread, bread, was the refrain. “Would that we had meat for food!” So Moses throws up his hands (again). “I cannot carry all this people by myself, for they are too heavy for me,” he said to God.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples to feed the crowd of over 5,000. But, like Moses, the disciples replied that this was one short order they could not cook on their own. “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here,” they told him, probably looking pretty overwhelmed. Without missing a beat, Jesus blessed the loaves and the fish and fed the whole group, leaving a dozen baskets full of leftovers.

Like most Bible stories, there are several themes we can take away from these two. On the one hand, God proves that what is difficult for you and I is easy for Him. He uses a universal human need (to eat!) to show his omnipotence. But he also shows his compassion; providing for our wants (meat, too, please) as well as our needs. He also demonstrates the power of prayer; in both the old and the new testament versions of this food-for-the-hungry story God waits for the people to come to him before providing what he knew they would need.

I’m sure Bible scholars would tell us there are even more meanings in those stories. Is it a coincidence, for example, that there were 12 baskets left over (12 Tribes of Israel), or that Jesus “said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples,”? (Sounds like the Last Supper and the Eucharist to me.) There’s no single “point” to the story, but there are an almost unlimited number of messages to help “feed” our souls today.

I wonder whether perhaps the next time I’m bored listening to the same old Bible readings, I should start listening a little harder. Are they ever truly, “the same”?