Wednesday, May 28, 2014


Don’t you love the long evenings of late spring and early summer? Baxter does too. It gives him more time to look out the windows and admire all the exciting things he sees-birds and rabbits, tree limbs moving in the breeze, flashes of the sun off a car window. It doesn’t take much to amuse Baxter, but he does perk up and go on alert when something catches his fancy. And it’s the light, the long light of the fresh season of growth that makes this all possible for him. He can see more for a longer period of time and enjoy the view for hours.

Easter is a season of long light for us as Christians. Liturgically, it extends itself for fifty days, up to the celebration of Pentecost. Theologically, Easter sheds light on our lives in every aspect. We need to learn to see ourselves, our world and our God in this light.

We are a people redeemed in the death and resurrection of Christ. Our sins are now “happy faults”, forgiven in the self-sacrificing love of Jesus. Our lives are transformed by what God did for us through Him, because now we share in our own lives the very Spirit that moved in Jesus’ life. So we are adopted children of God, brothers and sisters of the Lord Jesus, and heirs to the Kingdom with Him. We are called to be witnesses to this great mystery in which we share by the lives we live, acting like people who live in God’s Kingdom where forgiveness, healing, generosity-especially to the least in our midst-hope, confidence, care, respect and love describe our lifestyle.

In the long light of Christ’s resurrection, the world looks differently as well. It is not just a place of doom and gloom with threats around every corner. It is fertile ground for the Spirit to take root. But we, Christ’s disciples, have to plant the seeds of that Spirit. We have to engage the world on God’s terms, not to condemn it but to redeem it by showing what the marks of the Kingdom can do when people put them into practice. A new heaven and a new earth were introduced when Christ rose from the dead, but we often only see things in the light of past wrongs, prejudices and failures. A new world is possible, not by our own devices—as marvelous as some of them may be-but by God’s grace working in and through us. If we just show off our own talents and ingenuity, nothing will finally change, for our pride will lead to arrogance,our arrogance to selfishness, and our selfishness to competition, conflict and destruction. But if we show God at work through us, there are no limits to the goodness, virtues and transforming relationships we can generate in our midst.

Finally, in the light of the Risen Lord, we see God anew. No longer a sinister judge or cynical cop, a rescuing parent or convenient crutch, an hour-long habit on Sundays or a voice of neurotic guilt over trivial matters, God is a mysterious power, most intimate to us yet never exhausted by our  understanding or practices. He is a personal communion of life and love, always extending His communion to more and more of His creation. God is beyond closer to us than we are to ourselves. He is the alpha and omega; the beginning and end of all that is; the Way, the Truth and the Life; He is Love. The pictures for all of this were drawn by Jesus when He spoke of the Good Samaritan, the Father of the Prodigal Son, the Master of the vineyard; when He healed the lepers, the blind and the lame; when He forgave the adulterous woman and His executioners; when He gave the multitude bread and fish and His disciples His body and blood. What a wondrous God we see in the light of the Risen Christ.

The Easter season soon draws to a close, but the light remains throughout the year. Its symbol in the paschal candle marks every baptism and funeral we celebrate, life’s beginning and end. It opens new vistas in this world and leads to the vision of glory in the next. It extends the hope of day and shortens the nights we have to live through. The light of Christ’s resurrection gives us a glimpse of heaven, and it looks like a long summer evening sharing food and company with friends and family on the porch or patio. We see things differently in grace, and this vision makes us grateful. Baxter loves the long light of early summer. Easter teaches us to love the light of eternity shining in our midst.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


Cats get what they want in two ways. Either they become nasty, aggressively insisting on getting their way, or they become super nice, unctuously charming another into doing what they want. I have told you about Baxter’s angry side with its cries and hisses, but you may not know about his ingratiating side where he tries to seduce his innocent victim into giving him what he wants. Yes, Baxter is a charm school graduate. He knows how to butter up someone who has what he’s looking for—a treat, a way to open the door or window, a soft lap where he can stay warm. He uses two devices in his wily scheme. He purrs and purrs and purrs, loudly and rhythmically. The sound is so calming and soothing, who can resist its hypnotizing effects. The other charming technique Baxter has developed is the leg rub. Purring away, he gently pushes up against my ankle with a massage-like pressure to comfort my tired legs and tell me that he cares, that there is no one like me, that I’m the best. Of course, all of this is hogwash, but it works. It lowers my guard, and so I give into whatever has provoked Baxter’s wily charms. Honey attracts more bees than  vinegar.

Our words and actions have a great effect on others. They set the terms on which we relate to each other. They either open doors to understanding and affection, or close them. They draw people into our lives with the interest they arouse, or they keep them at bay with the cold shoulder or deception they offer. We regulate the flow of human interaction by the tone of our voice and the body language we present. Without saying a word, we can communicate a message of “keep out” or “welcome”, using our eyes and posture to convey the point. And we can try to fake it as well. We can mask our true feelings in insincere words and gestures, things said and done to manipulate another so that he or she will do what we want. As a last resort, we force our will on another with threats, the exercise of authority, or even physical strength. Like cats, we humans want to get our way, and we use whatever works to do so.

Jesus was so different in this regard. The Gospel picture of Him shows someone who neither forces other people to follow Him nor tries to deceive them into doing so. Jesus is a straight talker, saying “yes” when He means “yes” and “no” when He means “no”. He doesn’t weasel His answers to get out of controversy, but He doesn’t look for a fight either. He opens the truth of God’s Kingdom to invite others to come and see, and He doesn’t expect them to get it all the first time. His disciples grow in their understanding and love for His message through the course of the Gospel story, and they continue to do so as they become His witnesses after the resurrection. Jesus walks with others on their life’s journey. He doesn’t force them to go His way, nor does He reject them because they went  astray. Think of the rich young man with many possessions, or the woman caught in adultery. Jesus is not a tyrant or a charmer. He is God’s mercy incarnate, inviting whoever will listen and see to come along and judge for themselves who He is and how He can heal their lives. “Who do people say that I am? Who do you say that I am?” And in the great reversal of expectations and desires, rather than causing others to sacrifice for His comfort, Jesus sacrifices Himself for our salvation.

Like cat charms, human charmers can stroke our egos and make us feel good about what we do for them. But they can’t save us. Only He who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, can fulfill that mission. He invites us. Judge for yourself who is worth following.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Baxter is not a traveler. While his excursions have been quite limited-none more than twenty-five miles—every trip has been torturous for him. He starts crying from the moment I get him into his carrier, and the laments don’t stop until he reaches his destination and is free of his confinement within a moving vehicle. Actually, I don’t know if it is the traveling as such that upsets him so much, or the fact that he is restricted to a small box with a caged front for the duration of the trip. Baxter is accustomed to having the rule of the roost where he lives. He comes and goes wherever he likes for as long as he likes, and although he has been taught that certain areas and objects are off limits to him, who knows what he does when I am not at home. But confined to the carrier, Baxter is stuck. He can’t move much, see much, smell much. He’s a prisoner on the move, and he doesn’t like it.

Sometimes we feel the same way. Our lives are moving on, carrying us along for the ride, and we are prisoners of the journey. We are boxed in by obligations and responsibilities, and we seem to have no say over what we do or where we are going in the time that we have. We run from one thing to another-work, children’s activities, home, friends,  volunteer service, parents-and we get upset along the way from all the pressure and energy it takes. We are trapped by our own lifestyle into having and doing it all. We don’t like it, but we don’t know how to change it. After all, we want to keep up with other families. We want to show that we can do it and succeed. We want our children to compete and be successful. We love our families and friends, and want the best for them. This crazy, hectic life is what it takes today, so we have to hunker down and take the ride-or so we think.

We can travel in a different fashion. The journey of our lifetime in faith doesn’t have to be taken in a carrier built from expectations we have imposed upon ourselves. We need to upgrade our traveling class. Christ moves with us through our lives to guide and direct the journey, but we have to listen for His voice. This isn’t easy with all of the other voices around telling us what we have to do. So we need to pause and listen. We need to pray and decide which stops we include in the journey and which we skip. We need to come out of the cages we have built for ourselves, and include the things in our lives that we value and cherish, and discard those that take time and energy but mean little to us. As disciples, we need to ask ourselves, “Where do we find the Lord in our journey through life, and what is just busy work done to please ourselves or others without a lasting purpose?”

I usually trick Baxter into his carrier, because he will run and hide from it otherwise. Perhaps we have tricked ourselves into the traps that carry us from one thing to another in our frazzled life style. Step back; look at what is going on; pray for insight to discern what truly matters; then make some adjustments. Now we can enjoy the journey and learn from it. Now we can discover the Lord’s companionship with us like the disciples on the road to Emmaus. The journey of our lifetime doesn’t have to be torturous, if we learn to walk with others freely in the direction set towards life eternal.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014


When Baxter suspects there is food to be had, he sticks his nose in the air and sniffs. You can see him do it. His head bobs slightly up and down, while he turns it from side to side, all the time using his nose to reconnoiter the area for whiffs of available nourishment. If the aroma is strong and well-defined like salmon or tuna, he goes right to its source and sits there crying out for some. Nothing drives him away or distracts his attention from his olfactory lead. He won’t give up on the scent until he either gets a taste of it or loses it altogether. And if he loses it, he is always on the alert for another interesting smell that might hold the promise of at least a snack, if not a full meal. Cats’ noses lead them to follow enticing smells with the hopes that they may signal greater rewards for their stomachs.

God tries to sniff us out as well. He isn’t content waiting for us to find Him. God searches for us using whatever aroma our lives are giving off at the time. Maybe we are happy and carefree. Maybe we are sad and distressed. Maybe we are losing hope and despairing, or maybe we are in top form, strong, successful and energetic about whatever the moment holds for us. God can sense it all and use it to connect with us. We know this from the scriptures, especially the psalms, where every human sentiment finds its way into prayer. We don’t have to be a certain way to be with God. God takes us however we are and loves us without conditions. He is not afraid of our anger or overly impressed with our pride. He wants to share our joy, but our sorrow as well. God is not put off by our fickle human dispositions or the foibles of our personalities. God cares only about one thing—us—however we present ourselves at the moment. And He won’t stop sniffing for us, until He finds where we are.

When we approach God, we don’t need to camouflage our lives to smell pleasant and acceptable. No deodorants can mask how we are when we face God. He smells through our cover-ups. We can only offer ourselves as we are, honestly and without pretensions. This is what we have to present to God because, after all, He made us this way. God didn’t make us robots with programmed features to deal with what life delivers in a Stoic, mechanical response. God made us flesh and blood human beings who engage life on many terms at once, and who sometimes appear confused and volatile towards it all. These are the creatures God loves, and His love makes this smelly mess of genuine humanity beautiful.

Baxter gets excited when he catches the trace of an attractive aroma. He pursues it until he either finds its source or loses the scent. God is attracted to all the true smells of human nature, for they signal His points of entry into our lives. Don’t hide how you are from Him. He is too sensitive to fool Him. Let God get a whiff of our real lives, and He won’t leave us alone, but help us cope with ourselves, others and the situations we face with a touch of grace.

Thursday, May 1, 2014


When I am away from home for an extended period of time, Baxter misses me. I know this because of the way he waits for my return. When I pull my car into the garage, turn off the engine and lower the garage door, the next thing I hear are the plaintiff meows from the other side of the kitchen door that leads into the house from the garage. I call out Baxter’s name and tell him through the door that I am home. But the mournful meows aren’t satisfied. Until I open the door and find him sprawled on the floor ready for a belly scratch, he keeps up the racket. His message is a mixed one; part scorn at my leaving him, and part melancholy from missing me. Whoever thinks that cats are unattached, independent and unfeeling creatures simply don’t know Baxter and his kind. Even with all the comforts of food and water, a safe and warm shelter, windows to look out, and soft spots to lie, Baxter needs company to be happy and content.

God does too. When from His loving freedom God created us, He committed Himself to a relationship that became part of His life. I know that is hard to believe, but it is true. And to seal this relationship and show how true to it God will be, He sent His only Son to become one with us and save us. This bond was costly, for Jesus died to save us from sin and death. But no matter the price, God would pay it, not grudgingly but freely and generously, like a loving parent would do anything possible to save his or her child’s life. God saved us in Jesus for eternal life, for life with Him forever. No one is left out of this divine embrace. God wants each and every human being to share His life without end. He goes out of His way like the Good Samaritan or the Father of the Prodigal Son to bring us into the circle of His life and love. And He never quits trying to get us back home to His Kingdom where we belong. Even from the cross, Jesus saved the good thief and reached out to Mary, His Mother, and the beloved disciple to unite them in His love.

But we are often the problem here. On the one hand, we may try to convince ourselves that we don’t matter in the big picture of God’s salvation of the world. How could He care about little, insignificant me? How could He not? We are each made in the divine image with a unique part to play in the drama of salvation. No one can take another’s place, just as no child can replace another child in a family. We are each important to the Father of us all. On the other hand, we may allow our guilt at being away to prevent us from coming back home. We get down on ourselves for our past  negligence, our carelessness, our selfishness, our sin, so that we can’t stand to hear the divine cry, “I miss you!” Forgiveness and healing are God’s response to our waywardness. Not just our salvation, but God’s happiness is at stake in all this. Recall the scripture passage, “there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

I will let you in on a little secret. It is not just Baxter who misses me when I am away. I miss Baxter. That is how it works when we are connected in life. Likewise, I bet that deep down we miss God when we are away from His ways for a while. Creator and creature are both melancholy when apart for too long. The door is open. Walk in and greet your God Who is ready to embrace you. There’s nothing as great as a personal reunion after a long time away.