Sunday, December 17, 2006

Rejoice (in the Lord) always: Mike's new motto

Rejoice in the Lord always. I say it again: rejoice! --Phil. 4:4, from the 2nd reading for the 3rd Sunday of Advent
It was Saturday night, the eve of the third Sunday of Advent, and I was at a familiar haunt with a few old friends. We were all singing the woes of our ancient automobiles when Mike Brzezinski turned our lamentations into belly laughs, as his grand gift of gab transformed his creaky Cadillac into a wounded dragon-like creature, billowing smoke and emitting loud wails as it careened its way to the bar. As long as I have known him, Mike has had the ability to make people happy through his story-telling ability. Some have attributed his good cheer to beer, and in the early days before we married and our devout (and patient!) wives straightened us out, there probably was some truth to this theory. But when kids come, a man quickly realizes that the "Men's Club" is no longer enough, and after a brief dark period, Mike came back to the Catholic faith (as I was overjoyed to be his youngest daughter's godfather) and the Brzezinskis were happy again.

We don't see each other as much, and don't stay out as late as we once did (for Mike is now getting up for Mass too) but we still try to catch each other up on the stories of the others guys from our "Glory Days." "X wakes up in the morning," Mike stated, and goes through his checklist of what to complain about. Let's see... "It's 60 and sunny... No... my job? I just got full time hours and benefits! Damn! ... I got it. It's Monday!"

"How about Y and Z?" I wondered. Y and Z were both very successful salesmen back then and both also shared an incredible capacity for alcohol. Mike replied that while both continued to be heavy partiers, Y was still married and working and Z was divorced, out of a job and (since no one had heard from him in a couple of years) possibly dead.

"Z is merely Y gone over the edge," I summarized and, as the guys nodded in agreement, I made a further point. "And going to Sunday Mass is one thing Y did that Z did not and may be THE one thing that KEEPS him from going over the edge." The guys were not all nodding now, but Jackie (Mike's wife, who now accompanied him on the excursions) smiled knowingly before Mike steered the conversation back to happier memories.


The next morning at Mass, Jeanette and I listened to the homily of Fr. Christopher Floss (an inspiring young priest who reminds me of St. John of the Cross) which centered on the reading from Philippians. Father mentioned three saints from history; Laurence, Maximilian Kolbe and Mother Teresa who always were joyful. "Whether being roasted, leading starving prisoners in singing psalms, or bringing a smile to the sick and dying in Calcutta, these saints could rejoice even in those extraordinary situations, because they lived their lives completely for Christ. But," Fr. Chris closed, quoting St. Thomas Aquinas, "You cannot give what you do not have."

Like those three saints X has had many misfortunes and setbacks in his life, but chose Satan's sorrow over Jesus' joy. Both Y and Z had a chance to live for others, with Y somewhat succeeding and Z succumbing to desperately living solely for self. Advent helps us to remember that the true joy of Christmas is giving what we have to others so that they can share in Christ's coming too. We ALL have gifts, and if we sometimes have a day (or season!) where all we seem to do is suffer, God will accept this too as a gift if we offer it to His Infant Son. And, while there's nothing wrong in dreaming, say, that I will see Mike at "Daily" Mass someday as well as just on Sunday, Christmas is also about how great it is to hear Mike's cheery stories again.

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