Deep Summer and the Meaning of Life

My Dad always refered to late August and early September as “Deep Summer.” The kids are back in school. The late afternoon sun casts its long shadows on our fields, reminding us that the days are growing shorter. The smell of autumn is in the air.

In California, where I make my home, we console ourselves that we still have a couple of months of warm weather ahead of us but the days of summer are numbered. I remember, as a kid, being a bit impatient to get back to school after that long summer vacation (although it was against the kid code to admit this to my parents.)

But at this stage of my life, summer has gone by all to fast. Like a visit from an old and dear friend, I want summer to linger. Surely it can't be time to say goodbye to lemonade and backyard barbecues and basball and languid July afternoons that go on forever. Why, the Memorial Day weekend was just a couple of weeks ago, wasn't it ? It's almost September, you say ? Nonsense ! Someone has made a mistake.

My late beloved wife, Kathleen, used to measure her life not by the calendar but in summers. Her sadness at the waning of another summer was palpable. “I wonder how many summers we have left, ?” she would say with uncharacteristic mournfullness. For Kathleen, her answer came all too abruptly but most of us manage to avoid even asking the question. Death is not one of the hotter topics of discussion at social gatherings.

Still, I suspect that the close of summer gives many of us pause for reflection. At least for me, it's “meaning of life” time. I take out my journal and write and think deep thoughts. I usually look up some old friends I have lost contact with, give my brothers and sister a call, tell my kids I love them. Sometimes, I'll even get down on my knees and thank God for all the blessings in my life. For me, the end of summer brings with it a desire for closure, like I need to have my house in order before the winds of autumn arrive.

The good Book says, “We have not here a lasting city.” Geez, we all should know that, especially those of us who have been on the planet earth for half a century or more. But we tend to keep our mortality in the furthest corner of our mind. It takes the loss of a loved one or a close friend or the end of another summer to remind us that life, like the lazy days of July and August, goes by all too quickly.

Time is overdue for women priests

Time To Bid Farewell To an All Male Priesthood

The story is told about a conversation-taking place between a Jewish guy and a Catholic. “Tell me something, the Jew says,”I hear your church has a real shortage of priests these days. Is that right?” “Yea” replies the Catholic. “Why in Boston, they had to close about 60 parishes and there are shortages all over. There just doesn't seem to be enough men willing to go into the seminary these days.” “Yea, that's what puzzles me,” says the Jewish guy. ” Pardon me for asking a dumb question but why don't you guys ordain women to the priesthood?” “I don't know,” replies the Catholic, ” I guess it's because when Jesus chose his 12 apostles, none of them were women.” His Jewish friend's eyes lit up with a smile.” That's a hell of a reason. Jesus didn't choose any Gentiles either.”

I love the story. Reflecting on it further, it would appear that most, if not all, of the apostles were also married men. So we can only ordain Jewish married men? Geezo! How come we have allowed all those celibate Gentiles to be ordained? It gets kind of silly.

As a one time card carrying Catholic priest, I can poke fun at my church. Most human institutions, after all, are pretty slow to change. Have you ever served on a board of directors for a non-profit agency or a homeowners association? A new member will come up with a great suggestion for a program or some project or other. Inevitably, one of the older members will say, “Well, I don't know. We have never done that before.” More often than not, the suggestion is voted down. There is just something in human institutions that panic if change is discussed. The older the institution, the harder it is to change.

Fortunately, most Catholics are not nearly as reluctant to embrace change as their stubborn leaders in the Vatican. Surveys of Catholics in North American and Europe consistently find that the vast majority of the Catholic laity thinks that it's way past time for the Church to enter the modern age and ordain women (and married men) to the priesthood. What's the big deal?

Traditionalists will argue that there is no conclusive evidence that there were ever women priests in the early Church. (The old it's never done before argument used at the homeowners meeting) Even if that were true and we don't know that for sure, (There is plenty of evidence of women deacons), so what? Women were not allowed to vote in this country until well into the 20th.century. Does that mean they never should have been allowed to vote?

Yet another irony in this whole issue is that any priest will tell you that it's the women who do most of the work around a parish anyway. It's been that way for centuries. As one woman quipped, “Who do you think prepared the food at the last supper? “

Today, women are doing a lot more than preparing food for church suppers and ironing the altar cloths. Many are now administering Catholic parishes. They have all the responsibilities of pastors without the title. How fair is that? How fair is it to ordinary Catholics who have to go without the Eucharist because of the intransigence of an out of touch hierarchy?

There is reason for optimism that things will change. There are more female students in schools of theology in this country than males. These women have been patient long enough. They have the learning, the life experience, and the call to serve God as priests. Even if there were no shortage of male priests, it's time for the church to become an equal opportunity employer. Having male plumbing should not be part of a priest's job description.

Riches of the Heart

Riches of the Heart

When I want to challenge myself to grow into a better person, I find few authors who can reach me as powerfully as Anthony DeMello, a Jesuit priest from India. He once told a story about an ambitious young husband who was laying out his career plans to his wife. I'm going to work hard, honey, and someday we're going to be rich. The man's wife looked at him with love and replied, “We are already rich, dear, for we have each other. Someday, maybe we'll have money.

Living in a society that puts such a premium on material wealth, it is good to remind ourselves that what truly makes us rich is our relationships. Our bonds with parents, spouse, children, siblings and friends are our most valuable possessions. The moments when we experience real intimacy with another human being, the times when we feel absolutely free to be ourselves with our close friends or when we relive childhood moments with a brother or sister, or see understanding in the eyes of a friend;these are the riches of relationships that make our material ;stuff seem like nothing in comparison.

I asked a lawyer who had volunteered three years of his life to work among very poor people in Zambia what he had learned from Zambian people. He replied simply, “I learned from them that you can be very happy without having a lot of things.” I have talked to countless older people in this country who lived through the great depression and they echo the same sentiments. One couple told me, “We had so little, it was almost laughable. Yet, we pulled together and raised a family.” They hastened to add, “It wasn't just a matter of survival either. Those were the happiest days of our lives.”

I know that there are those who will dismiss these stories as Pollyannaish. They think to themselves, “Yea! Yea! That's all warm and cuddly, but show me the money. I want to shake them and say “Don't you get it that, no, it's not about money at all ?” “Money, as a friend of mine used to tell me, “is a handy thing not to be without.” That's all. It has its place but we really don't need much of the stuff our money buys, do we ? Rich is an attitude of the mind. It's a kiss from your sweetheart, a hug from your grand child, the satisfaction you get back from giving of yourself to others. Rich is loving and being loved. In the end, it's all about relationships, baby.

Approach Love and Cooking With Reckless Abandon

The Dalai Lama has a playful side. His advice to people entering the new millennium includes the following bits of wisdom:

“Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon”

Now there's a bit of off the wall counsel we might all take to heart. Great chefs and great lovers, let the creative juices flow. Sure you can mess up that traditional sure thing thanksgiving dinner by experimenting with a Japanese dish. What the hell, give it a try anyway. As for love, who need to be convinced ? Of course, we want to love and be loved with reckless abandon. Heck, just saying “I do,” involves one of the greatest risks of our lives, yet we are never more alive than at that moment. A tame. common sense kind of love is no love at all.

“Learn the rules so you will know how to break them properly”

I suspect that when we are ready to cash in our chips, the moments we will remember will not be the times we did everything we were supposed to do, but the times we stepped outside the box. I know a couple, who as star-crossed teen-aged lovers, ran off and eloped because they couldn't get permission from their parents. (They celebrated their 50th. wedding anniversary recently.) A friend of mine has definite rules she follows to lead a healthy life. No sweets;no booze; a daily regiment of exercise. She follows her own rules,too…80% of the time. When the spirit moves her, she knows how to break those rules with pizzass.

“Once a year, go someplace you've never been before.”

I talked to a native Californian recently who had never been to Yosemite, never once seen one of the natural wonders of the world. She lives in California for cripes sake. I know someone else who has lived in California for five years and has yet to see the redwoods. Mama Mia ! What are we waiting for ? The life we live is not a practice round. This is it,gang. We only go around once.

Hey, I think the Dalai Lama's advice is pretty cool, don't you ? Break some rules; be reckless in cooking and in love; go someplace you've never been before. You go Lama.