"The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want...and want...and want..."

Today marks the end of the liturgical year. Next Sunday, we enter into Advent as we prepare for Christmas. We end the year with the feast of Christ, the King of the Universe (which, I admit, sounds a bit like the name of a boxer with "the Universe, universe, universe" resonating in the arena.)

Or maybe that's just me.

Anyhow, today's psalm is easily the best-known: Psalm 23. We sang today: The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want. The psalmist not only recognizes the Lord in his life, but recognizes that the Lord is the only thing necessary for his life.

This is a deeply ironic thought, given that we just celebrated our nation's premiere holiday: shopping. (Sure, we had Thanksgiving, but mostly it's about shopping.) On Thursday, we gathered around the table and gave thanks for all of our many blessings. On Friday, we went out and bought stuff that we didn't mention at all on Thursday, but now seemed to be of the utmost importance.

I'm not a holiday shopper. I can't stand crowds, and going to the mall is not one of my favorite things to do on any weekend. But I'll tell you: I struggle with that "want."

I have more clothes than I can wear in a month. I own more shoes than I can wear in a month. A different set of jewelry every day? No problem. But I always can use more...and more...and more.

When I was out of work for four months this past year, I - by necessity - had to curb my internet shopping. But we were broke, so I couldn't have purchased anything anyway. But now that I'm working, I feel that familiar urge. Honestly, I don't need another black skirt, or another pair of earrings. But I sure do WANT.

St. Augustine knew what he was talking about when he described the God-shaped hole we are all trying to fill within. We can jam alcohol in that hole, or shoes, or trips to the casino. It won't help. And it won't help if we have one more drink or buy another pair of boots or scratch of one more lottery ticket. We cannot fill that hole with anything but God.

Yet, we try.

Christ spoke to me today: Why do you keep wanting STUFF when you have Me? You praise Me with your lips, but not your heart. Why do you let your WANT be greater than Me?

St. Francis of Assisi came to a point in his life where he got this. He stripped naked in the public square, relinquishing his fine clothing and family money. He put on a scratchy brown robe, with a rope knotted about his waist, and never looked back. He had all he wanted, which was Christ the Lord.

There is not one single thing I can add to my life to make it better. There is no thing. It is, rather, a who, the person of Christ. He is King of the Universe, but not yet of my soul. I'm not ready to put on the scratchy brown robe (and I'm not called to that anyway.) I hope, however, that I can have less of the "want" and more of the "know." I want only Christ.

A Good and Faithful Servant

It's funny how you can know a piece of Scripture and yet be completely oblivious to its meaning. As Catholics, if we read the daily readings every day, we will read nearly the entire Bible in three years. And the parables of Christ are memorable: they are stories, and we love stories.

As a lifelong Catholic, I've heard and read today's Gospel ... a lot. A rich guy is leaving. He calls his three trusted servants together and gives each of them money. "I trust you will care for this."

The first two double the money, returning twice the original amount to their master. The third, who has the least amount, was worried about losing the money he had, so he buried it. Kept it safe. And returned exactly the same amount back to the master upon his return.

What I never got was why the last guy was punished. He didn't lose the money, he didn't gamble it away. He kept it safe, right?

Today, we had a Paulist priest celebrate Mass with us, Fr. Costanza. He said a beautiful Mass, and his homily - well, after decades, I now have a handle on this parable.

Father pointed out that the first two servants saw their master as good and fair. They knew that he would treat them well, regardless of how much they were able to return to him. What mattered is, they wanted to please their good master by trying their very best with what they were able to do with his treasure.

The third servant - he acted out of fear. He saw his master as demanding, unfair. He wasn't going to take any chances - he feared his master's wrath.

Father pointed out that God gives each of us gifts. We can do whatever we choose. We can use those gifts extravagantly, hoping that we can return these gifts back to our Master with a grateful heart. Or we can act out of fear of a harsh and judgmental Master, one who will punish us no matter what.

I thought about those five talents given to the first servant, and my five kids. I hope that Dear Husband and I invested all we had into them. We recognized they were a gift from God, not truly ours. But God had given us responsibility for them.

They are young adults now. I don't care for all their choices, but they have to answer for themselves now. I love and pray for them. I look forward to having them around my dinner table at least once a month, and seeing them as often as we can get together.

No, they are not who I want them to be, but they are who they are. We could never impose our will onto them - they have to choose God. I hope they will.

In the mean time, I pray to God for each of them. And I hope He knows that I am, with all my faults and sins, trying to be a good and faithful servant who wants to give back more and better than I received. Amen? Amen.

Let's Not Be Rash

The past few weeks, I've been battling a skin rash.

This is nothing new for me. Dealing with allergies my entire life, and having sensitive skin, hives are a pretty common occurrence.

One day when I was about 8 or 9, we'd been picking strawberries at my Aunt Doris'. I was rewarded with a bowl of strawberries. Sitting at my aunt's dining room table, I dug in.

"Stop."

My mom reached over and told me to stop eating. She could see that I was breaking out in hives as I ate. And that ended my ability to eat strawberries.

Strawberries: God's gift to the world of fruit. I mean: such decadence! Eat 'em plain, throw 'em in champagne, dip them in chocolate. And I'm allergic.

I joke that one of my first questions upon entering Heaven will be, "Hey, God. How come I couldn't be allergic to Brussel sprouts?" And I'm hoping that at this point, strawberries and cream will be served.

Right now, I've had a rash on my arms and legs. It's itchy. It's ugly. After a few trips to my doctor, I was referred to a dermatologist. We've worked to get it calmed down, but it's still there.

Can you imagine what life would be like if we wore our sins on our skin? For a long time, lepers were thought to do this. "Unclean, unclean!" A person with such a horrible distortion of their skin must have done something to deserve this. Right, Lord: who's sin is this, the man or his parents?

It's all too easy to blame God for everything. What have I done to deserve this? I'm trying so hard to do Your will, and this is what I get? Really??

Dark-haired Daughter asked me yesterday about Adam and Eve. Why did God punish them? Why was God so mean?

I explained that God had given us Paradise, and we chose hives. Everything was perfect, and humans chose - free will! - our way instead of God's. We lost the garden, we lost Paradise ... and we chose an itchy, scaly rash.

What a mess. I wish I could blame it all on our original parents and original sin, but I know that I'd be just as likely to make the choice Adam and Eve did. Sure, God told us not to eat from that tree, but He didn't really mean it, right? I'm sure it will all be fine.

When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes,and said to him, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed, and came back able to see.

The man said, He told me to wash. I did. And my sight was restored. It sounds so simple. A skin rash is, pardon the phrase, more than skin-deep. It doesn't take much to clear up the skin, but what of the soul? And that is what Jesus did.

Let's not blame God for the effects of original sin. We chose it, and we choose it over and over again. Even when we know it's itchy and horrible and bad. Our hope must be in Christ.

Going "All In" With Jesus

One of the joys of being Catholic is that there is always new stuff to learn. And if you do run out of new stuff, there are plenty of new ...