Official Biblical, Liturgical, "Good News" readings.

You Never Know When God Wants to Get Your Attention
When I was a little boy, I had some serious allergies. At first, I didn't understand why crazy things were happening to me like swellings or or wild itching or even rashes that covered my entire body when I ate a particular food or got near a certain fabric or even when one year my father brought home a live Christmas tree. That's when my parents purchased what was probably the first aluminum, do it yourself, allergy-free Christmas tree. You know, I really liked that one!Allergies

Later I was told that I should probably stay away from bees and wasps, which, by the way, always seemed to gravitate toward me.  I was never afraid of the dark -or spiders -or even snakes,  but I did develop a serious respect for those winged fiends especially after one afternoon when one stung me close to my neck and they had to pack me in ice. They tell me that I was laughing throughout the ordeal but it wasn't funny, notably after my parents told me that I almost died.

Among the other allergens they discovered was dog hair which obviously meant that I couldn't have a canine pet like so many of my friends. I tried fish but, well, that's another story for another time. Again, for some reason, dogs used to follow me around in the neighborhood and loved to jump in my lap and there I went, sneezing and wheezing all over again. "Oh, well," I thought, "maybe I should ask for a 'Pet Rock'!" Remember those?  Trust me, not the same.

After high school and the somewhat turbulent and restless teenage seasons, I went off to college and graduate school. It was then, years later, studying in a different country, in a different world with all kinds of exciting cultural experiences (including foods), I realized something wonderful had happened. No more allergies! I must have outgrown them, or something like that...

Well, I finally got a dog. It was great. And throughout the years, like many of you, I have had several. But of all the companions that God blessed me in His goodness to me, were two beautiful, hilarious, mischievous and loving Labradors. To say that they were spoiled would be a feat of remarkable restraint. I took them everywhere I could, going on daily long walks, fashioning special sleeping blankets, foods, and of course my family and friends loved them, too.

homeless man with dogOne very hot summer afternoon, it was that time of the year to take them in to the Vet's. Although they never like that place, I always made it worth their while, knowing full-well that one day, it would be a sad visit. But nevertheless, we made an adventure out of it. On the way back, I had to stop for gas and pulled up to a station near my home. This was back in the day when you had to go inside to to pay even before the attendants would release the pumps. Right away, I noticed what I surmised was a homeless man with a dog. I remember that it was a brown and white, medium-sized spaniel. Of course I stopped. And even to this day, I am glad I did.

That man asked me if I could get him some food from inside the little station market. After explaining that although I did not have any cash on me, I would be glad to place any items on my credit card with which I was paying for the gas. "I'll be right back," I said. But he sunk his head, looked his little companion and continued, "Do you think you can get something for my buddy, here? He hasn't had anything for a couple of days." My heart melted. "Sure! Let me see what they've got in there."

I remember buying the man a couple of hot dogs that would at least be some hot food, and some other things that could last a few days. When I went looking for any dog food, which many places like that actually carry, they were all out. But they did have cat food, which seemed to me be at least as nutritious for the dog so I picked up a few packages or cans of that. After paying for everything and writing down the address of where I knew there was a food kitchen downtown, I went outside. That man ate his food so fast that I thought he might choke. As he washed it down with some cold milk, I can picture in my mind how some of it just spilled over onto his neck and chest as if he just couldn't put it down fast enough. His dog practically did the same thing. There was nothing left of the cat food as his little creature just cleaned out every atom and particle that was there. The man said thank you, his little buddy extended his paw and we said our good-byes.
man walking dogI returned to my vehicle with my 'king and queen,' and watched the man and his buddy walk off, worrying for the safety of the animal with no leash and fearing the inevitable. And I just waited until I could see them no more. For some reason, I just started to tear up, both of my companions becoming unusually quiet. I called out to God: "Lord, it's not fair. These two labs have everything including a home, lots a friends and a great life. Who knows what will happen to that man and his dog. It's just not fair..."

And then, something wonderful happened.
I believed I could hear the Lord speak to me.
It was a calm but strong voice that made perfect sense:

"Your dogs are blessed because they have you...just like You are blessed because You Have Me."

I don't have any dogs today and maybe and hopefully that will change sometime in the future. But I never forgot my Labs or the way God used them to bring a remarkable amount of  joy to my heart. (In fact, I'm smiling right now as I'm writing this.) And I'll never forget that hot, balmy afternoon in front of the gas station when the Lord got my attention and let me know how much I mean to Him.

I pray I never forget.
Thank You God

Definitely a Different Christmas

Alone with No Tree and Nothing to Open Christmas Morning
(inspired by one of our readers)

Now, don't get me wrong here. This is NOT your very own personal invitation to my New Year's Pity Party. Hardly. I am the most blessed man I know and I mean that sincerely. People who know me constantly tell me that I am the strongest, most patient and courageous person they know, and believe me, that's nice and while I strive to live up to that every single day of my life, some days are better than others. And some years are better than others.

This brings me to this past Christmas. Sometime after Thanksgiving, I could tell this was going to be a struggle. The last 18 months or so had been delivering slow growing pressures seemingly from every direction. There was disappointing news at least every month, issues with no apparent resolution in sight and just a mounting challenge to get up every morning to face the same thing, all over again. And again.

So I decided that I would spend the weeks before Christmas trying to move out of myself and find all the opportunities to give and share and be joyful with others no matter where I would find them, especially those who clearly had a much harder time with life than I was having---even to leaving carrots and celery for this little wild rabbit that visits my backyard patio from time to time. And you know, it all worked! The height of all this reached Christmas Eve where I spent awesome quality time with family and old and dear friends practically all day culminating with Christmas Eve Mass and sumptuous dinner following. What a blessing! I went to bed like a 5-year old child, full and happy with a large grin on my face. It was good.

Then came Christmas Day morning. Uh oh! I wasn't ready for it--- and I really can't explain why. Because of space and other things, I decided not to have a tree but still decorated festively and certainly was not sparing from filling nearly every empty corner or shelf space available. Thus, waking up to go straight to the Christmas tree did not happen. And although there were a handful of cards, email messages and texts, and some very nice bottles of wine, this was the first year that I could remember that there was nothing to open on Christmas morning. Before allowing myself to wallow in self-pity, I quickly returned as many emails, text messages and phone calls as I could and by noon it was time to deliver a couple of turkey dinners to home bound people and then get back in time to prepare a luscious Christmas dinner for a couple of good friends. I went to bed exhausted.

For the next couple of days, every time I walked back into my home after a full day at work, I caught myself thinking about this past Christmas and how silly and selfish it was for me to frame the experience in terms of the absence of a tree and brightly wrapped gifts. I kept trying to think of all those who certainly had much less than I do. I wanted to remember those in hospitals and prisons. I continued to recall the great outreach and memories that had been made. But, I'm sorry to report, there was still that nagging and irritating emptiness that was simply not going away. I begged Jesus to help me and then resigned to just accept all this as part of life and then, as soon as possible, to start packing away the decorations and try to move forward. “I am good at that,” I thought.

And on the Fourth Day of Christmas, it (finally) all made sense: it was about 5 in the morning and I was wide awake. I tried to go back to sleep but it was futile. There were a number of powerful dreams that made for bit of interesting interpretations and a lot on my plate for the upcoming day so I decided to make a fresh cup of coffee and sit outside and drink it with Jesus and watch the sunrise.  The first thing I noticed was that my little rabbit didn't make it to the porch for his carrot and celery salad and hoped that he was still alive somewhere. It was then that I saw something moving by the only tree in my back yard. It was that silly rabbit, caught in between some plastic netting and the fence unable to break free. While I carefully walked over on this rescue mission, I knew I could very well scare it to death so I knew I had to be quick. Taking some kitchen shears from inside, it was a simple maneuver to snip the upper part of the plastic cords with one clean cut---which worked and the little guy took off, well, like a jackrabbit!

Merry Christmas, Bugs!,” I called out. “Freedom for Christmas, what a gift!” It was then, in the last few moments of darkness as the sun began to peak over the horizon, that I could see in my mind's eye, the little Baby Jesus opening his arms to me. It was as if He was saying to me “this is what you open on Christmas, not paper wrapped boxes.”

So you see, there was a Christmas tree for me this Christmas and there was a gift for me to open. It just took me some time to find them.

His Great Decision
CityOfAgape Sick Child
There is a true story of a little boy whose sister needed a blood transfusion. The Doctor explained that she had the same disease the boy had recovered from two years earlier. Her only chance of recovery was a transfusion from someone who had previously conquered the disease. Since the two children had the same rare blood type, the boy was ideal donor.

"Would you give your blood to Mary?" the doctor asked.

Johnny hesitated. His lower lip started to tremble. Then he smiled and said, "Sure, for my sister."

Soon the two children were wheeled into the hospital room. Mary, pale and thin, Johnny, robust and healthy. Neither spoke, but when their eyes met, Johnny grinned.

As the nurse inserted the needle into his arm, Johnny's smile faded. He watched the blood flow through the tube.CityOfAgape Love heart

With the ordeal almost over, Johnny's voice, slightly shaky, broke the silence.

"Doctor, when do I die?"

Only then did the doctor realize why Johnny had hesitated, why his lip had trembled when he agreed to donate his blood. He thought that he had to give ALL his blood to his sister thus giving up his life. But in that very brief moment, he had made the one great decision that would forever change his life.
Nails and Consequences
Father and SonOne day, a young father wanted his son to understand the true impact of making right choices, of obeying and doing what's right. His idea was unique: every time his son made a bad choice or a wrong decision, he gave him a hammer and one gray nail to go out to their backyard and pound it into the wooden fence.

At first, it seemed like a game for the youngster, as he was excited in a playful way to have to go out and nail these objects into the fence. It was fun, of course, until he had to go out when it was raining or cold or in the darkness of the night. But still, it continued. Fotosearch_k13649552

Every time the little boy got in trouble, talked back to either of his parents, or caused a disappointing note to accompany him from his teachers, there he went out to the back. However, every time he made a solid, great decision, making his parents and himself proud of his accomplishments, he was instructed to go out to the fence and carefully remove any one of those nails.

This family ritual continued until the boy was now a strapping, handsome young man all of 21 ready for the world and a bright future ahead. By this time, it had been months even years since he ever went outside to either pound or extract any more nails in the back fence.

The night before he was to leave for a new life in another city far away, his father called him outside late one afternoon as the sun began to set. His young man of a son knew what was coming as he saw a few tears begin to drop from his dad's face. There were no more nails in the fence. They both idly stared at the fence from left to right with powerful memories flooding both of their souls as the light of the sun began to escape.

Fotosearch_k10460035"Son," the father continued, "You've done well. I am ready to let you go forward. But just look at all the holes in our fence. It will never be the same. When you choose a wrong path, speak a hateful word, give in to a selfish act that hurts another, or violate trust that has been faithfully placed in you, they leave a scar just like these holes. You will find forgiveness, but please think before you act knowing that there will always be consequences."

"If you can remember this moment and this fence, I can rest assured that I've done all I could to raise you as good a man as possible."

Now the sun had set and only the light of the back porch  and a pale soft glow from a full moon gently bathed the two men and an old fence.

Time seemed to stand still. No words were needed.fence sunset
A Student's Creed
this new day, I am a successful student. Overnight my mind and body have produced thousands of new cells to give me the greatest advantages possible. I am born anew, revitalized, and full of energy.

I am rare and valuable; unique in all the universe. I am nature's greatest miracle in action. I have unlimited potential. I believe in my abilities, attitudes, and goals. I am worthy of greatness because I am the most important person in my world.GoodNews joyful children

Today I push myself to new limits. I use my skills and knowledge every day. I begin the day with a success and end it with a success. My goals are being reached every day and I seek them eagerly.

I act positively and happily, fully accepting myself and others. I live to the fullest by experiencing life without limits. I embrace life. I approach each class, each book, and each assignment with enthusiasm, happiness and joy. I thirst for knowledge. I look forward to reading and believing this creed each and every day.

true loveI am a positive and successful student. I know each step I must take to continue to be that way. I am clear on my goals and see myself reaching them. I now realize my infinite potential, thus, my burden lightens. I smile and laugh. I have become the greatest student in the world.
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