Diogenes Eats Humble Hummus

 

We needed yeast and a few other things, so I drove to Market Basket to fill a shopping cart with bare necessities, among them a container of hummus, and of course, the yeast. The yeast was the smallest item in the cart, so I had to make sure it didn’t escape.

At check-out, I tapped my credit card on the counter and chatted with the bagger as she loaded my items. I paid no attention to the yeast until I arrived home.

Where was it? I searched the sundry shopping bags I’d used—no yeast.

Maybe it fell out of my cart and was never bagged. Now I had to find the receipt. You can tell, I’m disorganized. But I did find the sales slip and checked each item. I’d paid $1.49 for a three-pack of quick rising yeast. Did I put it in the refrigerator? No!

Well, if I lost the yeast, other items may have gone astray. Careful screening of the receipt revealed I’d paid $3.49 for the hummus, but it too was gone. A psychologist friend once told me I suffered from Diogenes Syndrome. You remember Diogenes, the guy with the lamp searching for an honest man. In my case, I’d spent years of my life looking for misplaced items like yeast and hummus.

Yes, my life is a mess. Imagine a desk piled with papers surrounding a laptop. Look over the pile. That’s me behind it. As a Diogenes sufferer, I’ve developed coping skills. These skills do not include a filing system or shedding clutter. Diogenes taught me that if two things disappear, they likely ran off together and hide in the same place. I’d probably misplaced a shopping bag. Who knows what else the bag might hold, perhaps an honest man?

No luck. I was out $4.98 and a cloth shopping bag. No big deal, right?

Oh, no. My life was ruined.

“What?” you say. “You could hop in the car and Diogenes the check-out counters or simply, buy replacements.”

They cost less than five dollars, but their loss got under my Diogenes skin. I admit they shouldn’t have. The mishap wounded my pride and demonstrated my attachment to trivialities. Buddhism teaches that attachment causes pain. Christianity asks that we seek first the Kingdom of God and all else will be given to us. Rely on God and not on our limited powers and we will be happy in this world and the next. I should have listened.

Anyway, this morning I found the yeast packet stuck between two bags of English Muffins. The hummus hid behind the Pico de Gallo salsa in the back of the refrigerator. All of my concern overnight hurt only me. Next time I lose something—where are my car keys?—I’m not going to worry—I’ll be late if I don’t find them—I’m going to relax and strive for a spiritual perspective and peace.

God Bless.

 

Thomas Merton after 50 years

Fifty years ago, December 10, 1968, Thomas Merton left this world. His prophet words serve as a warning to the people of our times.

The Seven Storey Mountain, Merton’s autobiography of faith tells of God’s subtle enticement of Merton’s spirit. The ruins of Cistercian monasteries in France fascinated Young Thomas. He read a range of philosophers including Jacques Maritan and other Catholics who convinced Merton that Scholastic Philosophy offered the best explanation of reality.

Most of all, Merton was drawn by example. Before his conversion, he sat near a young woman at Mass. Her fervor and sincerity convinced Thomas of the strength of her faith and encouraged him to deepen his own.

Baroness de Heuck, a Russian immigrant, shaped his concept of social justice. During the Great Depression, Communist recruiters opened soup kitchens in Harlem. When hospitals refused medical treatment for persons of color; when landlords denied housing, and employers, jobs; Communists brought doctors, rented apartments, and offered financial support.

The Baroness noted that it was once said: “See how these Christians love one another.” She observed no sign of Catholic love in Harlem. The Cardinal and Bishops dined with the wealthy but ignored the poorest within the Archdiocese.

The Baroness frightened establishment Catholics with her application of the social encyclicals of Popes Leo XIII and Pius IX. She embarrassed pastors in Harlem who hired white tradesmen to repair their buildings when Harlem residents stood in unemployment lines. She claimed that the Catholic Church was “just a front for Capitalism.”

She established Friendship House and Blessed Martin de Porres Center—Catholic Christian responses to the social needs of Harlem. Merton worked there briefly, but the experience influenced his social justice message.

In Merton’s discussion of sins and virtues, he noted that during the period leading up to the Great Depression, the Capital Sins of Pride and Greed had become virtues. Americans of the 1920s chose personal and national greatness over goodness and humility; unregulated growth and the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few over a disciplined and reliable economic system that allowed everyone to benefit. Merton’s words warn Americans about the consequences of its Roaring 20/20ies economic injustice—redistribution of wealth from the poor and middle class to the rich and the threat of another depression. Greatness is not measured in triumphalism or superiority but love and justice.

America ignores the prophetic words of Thomas Merton, Popes Leo, Pius, and Francis at its peril.

 

Standing Strong, by Theresa Linden

The tagline for Standing Strong—Theresa Linden’s most daring novel—reads: “Blessed is he who is not scandalized in me.” Most young adult novels ignore the spiritual life, some ridicule it, or replace it with fantasy. Standing Strong embraces spirituality—with a strong Franciscan flavor—as God shapes the lives of Jarret and Keefe West, and brings peace to their family.

Readers of the first three West Brothers novels know Jarret as narcissistic, manipulative, and cruel—a teen just waiting for karma to catch up with him. His favorite targets include his twin, Keefe, an unwilling accomplice, and their younger brother, Roland—Jarret’s frequent victim.

 

Rather than karma or Satan, it is mercy that catches Jarret. Like Saul on the road to Damascus, Jarret resets his priorities, sincerely attempting to amend his life. He admits his mistakes and avoids the people, places, and circumstances associated with his earlier misdeeds. He shows genuine compassion to his family, friends, and even his enemies. Unfortunately, he grows overconfident, and the lure of his deeply ingrained habits and the expectations of his classmates impede his spiritual progress. He finds himself rejected; crying out, “God, why do you make this so hard?”

 

Keefe, Jarret’s perennial foil is so used to deferring to his brother, their father, and anyone who challenges him that he stalls on his journey to the religious life—mired in self-doubt, and his fear of wrath, ridicule, and rejection. Can he make the leap of faith, faith in himself and his calling, despite the apparent obstacles and contradictory signs? Can he embrace the scandal of Jesus?

 

The author devises an elaborate series of subplots that pit Mr. West, Roland, and his friends, Channel—Jarret’s voluptuous girlfriend—, and strangers along the road who deflect the West twins from their holy trek.

 

Standing Strong appeals to a wide audience, especially troubled high school students and those contemplating the religious life. Theresa Linden’s research into adolescent psychology and the life, legends, and spirituality of Saint Francis of Assisi erects a sturdy framework through which she threads her themes.

 

The author shared the pre-publication copy of Standing Strong that enabled this review. I thank her and applaud her creative spirit.

Feast of Pontius Pilate, by E. Ann McIntyre

JC_PP_Front_Cover_Red

Who would have thought that any of the Gospel villains would merit a feast on the liturgical calendar or have churches erected in their memory? Believe it or not, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church considers Pontius Pilate and his wife, Claudia to be saints. A clear case for Claudia begins in the scriptures where she urges Pontius to have nothing to do with the trial of Jesus, but where does the road begin for Pilate’s conversion?

 

The canonical and apocryphal gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the writings of Flavius Josephus, the letters of Pontius Pilate, the Report of Pilate to Emperor Tiberius, concerning Jesus Christ, and other documents provide the substance from which the fertile imagination of Ann McIntyre traces Pilate’s spiritual journey.

 

As in her previous novel Lazarus of Bethany, the author inserts backstory—logical links that fill gaps in the scriptural accounts. The upper room used during the Last Supper becomes the Jerusalem home of Zebedee and his sons. McIntyre more completely develops scriptural characters including Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. The Centurion seeking a cure for his servant as Jesus enters Capernaum becomes the same Centurion at the execution and resurrection of Jesus. She expands the role of Cornelius, visited by Peter in the Acts of the Apostles.

 

Emperor Tiberius reluctantly posts Pilate as Prefect of Judea, Samaria, and Idumea, placing him on notice that any failure in his management could result in his execution. The enmity of Tiberius comes despite his family connection to Claudia. Pressure on Pilate increases with the constant complaints to Rome by Chief Priest Caiaphas. The condemnation and execution of Jesus place Pilate in a no-win situation. Leniency would allow Caiaphas to say that Pilate “is no friend to Caesar,” but the crucifixion of Jesus also blackens Pilate’s record with Tiberius. As Pilate dispatches a report of the execution, a letter from Tiberius arrives, asking for Jesus to become his personal healer.

 

McIntyre adds a spiritual dimension to her description of the treatment of Jesus before and during his execution—details that enrich meditation, especially during Holy Week.  She nicely exposes Caiaphas’ bribes to cover-up Jesus’ resurrection and seamlessly links the several appearances of Jesus after his resurrection, inserting visits with Claudia and Pilate. Pilate waffles in his belief until disaster strikes.

 

Pilate’s slaughter of Samaritan’s insurgents gives the Governor of Syria the opportunity to replace him with his own man from North Africa. According to the Acts of Pilate, the Emperor orders Pilate to kill himself. Some accounts say that Christ appears to Pilate saving his life and confirming his conversion.

 

Although historical fiction, at times The Feast of Pontius Pilate reads like an action-adventure thriller. The story flows logically as narrations switch between Pilate and Jesus. Pilate’s conversion certainly fits within the Year of Mercy theme. If Pontius Pilate could receive forgiveness and mercy, we can hope for the same.

 

Fools, Liars, Cheaters and Other Bible Heroes, by Barbara Hosbach

Straw hats

Barbara Hosbach invites the reader to come away to a place of quiet refreshment in the company of often overlooked biblical heroes. Taken as a whole, Fools, Liars, Cheaters, and Other Bible Heroes, outlines a self-directed retreat or a series of twenty-eight daily meditations. The author sets the stage for each meditation with a substantial biblical quotation. She then expands on the scriptures looking for the untold story behind the often brief description of the featured character.  The author then carefully illustrates each character’s impact and applies the lessons learned to modern life. Each chapter concludes with four to six questions that assist the reader to effectively internalize the biblical teaching.

What impressed me most about this book was the way that Barbara, a retreat and workshop facilitator makes personal contact with her readers in each meditation installment. I could almost smell the coffee as Barbara figuratively sat across from me to share her own quiet reflections on biblical bit-players reminiscent of ordinary people we meet every day. She brings the fools, liars, cheaters to life, including an Old Testament helicopter mom, the wallflower who got the last laugh; the prostitute and several other “aliens” hiding in the family tree of King David and Jesus. She introduced me to the original, “Ms. Understood” and encouraged me through her account of the woman who marked her household with the Red Cord, declaring her allegiance to the One God.

Among the other heroes, Barbara ranks the disabled, doubters, a pampered beauty queen, home bodies, the rich, the poor, the arrogant, the humble, prophets, orphans, widows, worriers, outcasts, silent partners and a secret admirers of Jesus. One after another the heroes share the spotlight. Barbara recounts biblical themes that could have come from today’s tabloids–marital infidelity, the role of women in society, women in the military, espionage and psychological warfare. The impact of heroic deeds by these seemingly minor characters, form the matrix that binds together the greater biblical message.

For example, Anna the prophet and widow, age eighty-four, “never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day.” She lived to see the Messiah her dream realized when Joseph and Mary brought the infant Jesus to the Temple of Jerusalem. Barbara shares her thoughts on this brief description, noting Anna’s youthful widowhood and long but solitary life. Barbara asks, did Anna choose to fast or was that the effect of her economic limitations? Barbara prompts me to consider the lives of local elders who frequent daily Eucharist. They were once newly-weds, but now live alone, taking consolation in the liturgy and church community. One of Barbara’s end-of-chapter questions asks if I (or you) or any of my friends have ever experienced a similar, abrupt change in circumstances, and “What opportunities for spiritual growth were present in those times?”  Life springs “opportunities” upon us all the time, if we see tragedies as such. Barbara reminds us to trust in God. God’s grace provides guidance. She also reminds us that God selects the weak and the improbable because God sees things differently than humans do. I feel good about that.

Clearly, I will re-read Fools, Liars, Cheaters, and Other Bible Heroes on a regular basis as part of a program of spiritual enrichment. The good news is that there are many more characters waiting in the wings for inclusion in one of Barbara Hosbach’s future books.

If you want a sneak peak at Barbara’s stories, go to http://www.biblemeditations.net/

Hosbach, Barbara. Fools, Liars, Cheaters, and Other Bible Heroes. Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media. 2012.

(Photo and review, © 2013 Donald J. Mulcare)