Wednesday, February 25, 2015


Baxter is not one to fast. Although he is on a diet now, that is certainly not of his choosing, and its purpose is quite different from any religious practice. You see,Baxter is a creature of the moment and of the obvious in the moment. When he is hungry he thinks only of eating, and he will take whatever is edible and available to him to satisfy his hunger. Food has one purpose only for Baxter. It satisfies the craving he feels in his stomach. Once his hunger is put to rest, Baxter moves on to other things-- usually a nap. Baxter’s diet has been imposed on him by his care taker, and he doesn't like it. He fails to see the point because it only exaggerates his hunger. He doesn't notice that he is over-weight,and he doesn't understand the health concerns this brings. All Baxter knows is that he is hungry when he is hungry, and he is satisfied when he has had enough to eat.

Fasting is not the same as dieting, and it’s not about the obvious effects of not eating weight loss, feeling more energized, etc. Although some of these may be beneficial side-effects of eating less, when we fast we need to have some different points in mind.We want to feel the desire for food in fasting, but we use this passion to raise a profound question for us. What do I genuinely want from life? Our physical hunger is only a token sign of the deeper hungers that drive our lives. We need to take stock of these. What am I working for in my work and family? What do I think will bring me happiness? What does the Gospel say we need to desire? “Seek first the Kingdom of God.”

Fasting helps us to notice what we often take for granted. By feeling our need for basic nourishment, we come to see what genuinely nourishes us from a deeper perspective. Food is a way God shows us His goodness and providence. It is rich in taste, texture, aroma and appearance as is God’s loving presence in our lives. It is not about gobbling it down to get on to the next thing. It is about savoring what life offers, sharing it with others, and acknowledging God as its source. Fasting should slow us down so that we appreciate what we have to sustain our whole lives—body, mind and spirit—and so be less anxious about having enough and how long it will last. “Recall the lilies of the field"

The rules of the Church on fast and abstinence set the boundaries for us as a community to share this fundamental spiritual practice. However, it is often too easy to follow the rules, and miss the point. We eat less that God might become more in our lives. When we are truly fasting, we desire God more and make choices that aim to realize that desire. We see God more in the various circumstances we face each day, and that vision drives out fear and worry. Fasting opens our senses to the richness of God’s love, and knowing this, we grow in gratitude for the gift life is. Fasting holds back a little on our bodily comforts that our spirits might recognize more the fullness of divine life.

Baxter can’t fast, but he can go on a diet. We fast during Lent that we might more and more desire to feast in the loving presence of our living God.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Focus on Food

From all that I have written, it should be no surprise to anyone that Baxter loves food. His portly appearance, his tricks to get more, the eating routine that he follows, and his begging for scraps from the table, all attest to his preoccupation with eating. He goes on alert when a container is opened. The sound and the aroma are enough to bring him to attention, waiting for the right move that might bring him a morsel. Baxter is focused on food, and he doesn’t get distracted from pursuing his next meal or snack. He is a feline version of a “Foodie”.

But Baxter is in good company. How many of us exchange recipes or suggestions for places to eat out? Movies about chefs and restaurants and their rivalries are popular. The Food Channel has a large viewership, and many of us have our favorite programs where we watch other’s prepare delectable delights. Occasionally, we are even inspired to produce our own culinary creations, and when they work, we want to tell others about our success. Food takes up a large portion of our lives financially, socially and physically. We are concerned about our diets for health and for the pleasure that comes with eating. The cost of food has risen in the grocery store, the fast food counter and the fine restaurant. We pay it though because we have to eat to live, and we love to eat well to find joy in living. Without noticing it, we focus on food a lot.

What about the food for our souls, the Eucharist? Do we pay as much attention to the Bread of Life and the Chalice of Salvation as we do to our physical nourishment? The Eucharist is the heart and center of our lives of faith as Catholic Christians. When we gather each week to worship, we celebrate the Eucharist. It incorporates into one liturgical prayer all of our hearts’ desires. We ask for forgiveness and healing there. We give praise and thanks to God for His blessings, especially the blessing of His Son who saved us in His cross and resurrection. We seek what we need to live our faith concretely in the circumstances of our families, friends, and neighborhoods, and in the demands of our work and world. We strengthen our bond of unity as God’s people by singing, praying, listening and taking communion together. We intimately share in God’s divine life while we share this life with each other. All of these dimensions are part of our Eucharist each week. It is a complete, balanced meal for our soul, and without it, we struggle to remain spiritually healthy.

Lent calls us to fast from bodily food a little, so that we can indulge ourselves on the spiritual food offered at Eucharist. It’s a slight change of focus to assure that our whole persons— not just our physical selves are nourished and grow. Take the time to think about what we are doing when we come together each week at Eucharist. Savor its tastes. Take in its atmosphere, and use this food to offer excellent service to others because of this nourishment God’s gives us. Become fat with grace this Lent through eating well and fully at God’s table. There is no greater joy in life.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Missing Each Other

When I am away from home for a while, Baxter misses me. I don’t think he likes to admit it, but I can tell by his behavior when I return. When he was younger, Baxter would give me the “cold shoulder” for the first few days back home. Now, he becomes super affectionate when I return. He stays close by wherever I am in the house. He cuddles in my arm when I sit in a chair. He talks to me almost incessantly, and he is under foot whenever I move from one room to another. In his senior years, Baxter is not afraid to show his attachment and affection for me. While I think he still doesn’t like my leaving him, when I return he does not give into his anger about my absence. He has learned through the years that anger often disguises our true feelings, and he has become more direct about expressing these without hesitation. Baxter has something to teach us here.

We sometimes get angry at the ones we love most because we care so much. Whether the loved one is family, a friend or even God, we can get detoured in our feelings for them by our worry or disappointment or frustration over them. We are afraid for their well-being and safety, but instead of expressing this fear, we get angry at them. We are sad when they do something that is out of character for them, but instead of voicing our concern for their lost respect and esteem, we get angry at them. We feel thwarted in our hopes for another’s happiness, but instead of sharing these hopes we have for them, we get angry at them. Our anger can become an obstacle to expressing what we really feel about another, and so it blocks us from truly communicating with them. Out of care for the other, we actually pull away and then wonder why we can’t understand each other’s point of view.

This can also happen with God. We withdraw from connecting to the divine mystery in our life because we get angry with Him. Instead of sharing in prayer and spiritual direction what is behind our anger, we stew in unholy silence. We stop praying, worshipping, searching for God. We give the “cold shoulder” to all things religious by disguising our true heart’s desire with curt words of aloof dismissal. We pretend that we don’t care and don’t need God in our lives, and so we cut off any chance for growing into a more mature faith, where God and people speak directly, honestly and personally to each other to become more intimately connected. Angry relationships will never grow, but getting behind the anger opens the door to a deeper understanding and bond with each other.

We all separate from eachother from time to time for various reasons. We grow up and set up our own households. We get a new job and move to a new community. We expand our interests and meet new people. We disagree about one thing or another. We go away on vacation for a while. These separations can make our hearts grow fonder, if we come back together with anticipation for what we can share and learn from each other. We allow our feelings of being happy that we’re back together take command over being angry that we were apart.

Baxter has grown wiser with the years. Maybe we can share in his wisdom, so that we can create happy reunions for ourselves.

Thursday, February 5, 2015


Charlie is a mutt.That said, he does have some breed specific traits. He shows some beagle but probably a bit more prominent is the golden retriever in his blood. He actually looks like a miniature golden retriever, if that were a breed. He has the same boxy face and floppy ears. He has a beautiful flag tail, and the most silky golden fur I think I’'ve ever seen. But, appearances aren'’t the only way his retriever blood shows.

My dog loves to play fetch. He will bring a stuffed toy, a stick, or, most favorite, a bouncing ball. He loves to run after the bouncing ball, catch it in his mouth and return it for the next throw. This game goes on as long as the thrower doesn'’t get tired. There is also a sneaky trick played by the thrower from time to time. At our house, we call it the fake-out. You know the one. You pretend to throw the ball, and your dog unwittingly chases after nothing.

Carlie falls for this trick nearly every time it’s played. What’s funny though, is that no matter how often he gets tricked, he never loses interest in playing fetch. He always comes back just as excited by the opportunity to chase after that bouncing ball.

Have noticed that we don’t have the same exuberance about being tricked or fooled. We get angry and resentful. We then carry that hurt and resentment into our relationships with others who have no fault in the trickery. What’s worse is we carry that tough exterior into ministry, too.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus describes the judgment of all souls. He speaks about the Lord separating the sheep from the goats. The Lord judges both groups according to the same criteria. He praises the sheep for ministering to the Lord when he was sick, hungry, naked, and in prison. The goats are rebuked for not caring for him. When the sheep and goats both ask when they were or were not caring for the Lord, He tells them that, “whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me."

When we hear these words today, I think we give ourselves too much leeway. We say, I give money to the poor, I serve at Mass, I do volunteer activities in my community. I am clearly serving Jesus. I’m fine.

But, what about the scammers? What about the cheaters and the criminals? What about the people who are freeloaders and abusers? What about the ones who refuse to ask for forgiveness?

Are we still reaching out to them? Are we still kind? Do we show them love and consideration?

The trouble is, we don'’t. We put up our walls and barriers and comfort ourselves with the knowledge that they don't deserve the ministry of Jesus. They have been tricksters, so they haven’t earned the care and love we have to share. But, we couldn’'t be further from the truth.

When we go forth to our judgment day, the Lord isn'’t going to praise us for not getting fleeced or tricked by others. He’s going to ask how many times we forgave, how many times we reached out to others, or how many times we were loving. What will we answer?

I know that it’s hard to stay joyful and forgiving when people give you so much to be grumpy about. That’s why welcome to the Eucharist each week. It’s why we can seek to let go of those hurts in Confession. The Sacraments let us start again, so we can go out fresh and renewed ready to love and serve each other once more.

Chasing a ball thrills Charlie no matter how many times we try to trick him. The opportunity to care and serve the world should do the same for us