Not having your cake nor eating it, too

OK...every baker has a problem now and then.
OK…every baker has a problem now and then.

I doubt I’ll ever open a bakery.  But if I do, it won’t be in Denver.

First, the altitude means I’d probably have to adjust the recipes in all my cookbooks.  (OK, they are my wife’s cookbooks and on rare occasions I borrow one.)

Second, I hear lots of the locals have a smoking problem.

Third (and possibly related to the previous issue), bakers get sued for strange reasons in Denver.

I can understand how a baker might legitimately get sued.  Perhaps he drops his false teeth in the batter and they end up in a birthday cake.  Perhaps he puts plaster of Paris instead of flour in the cookie dough.  Maybe he mixes up the toothpaste and vanilla frosting.  Or…a customer could slip on a banana peel carelessly discarded from the banana cream pie.

But not in Denver.  In the mile high city (this related to both the elevation and point two above), one baker is being sued for declining to bake for a gay wedding.  Another baker is being sued for declining to make a cake with anti-gay slogans.

OK. We are talking about a cake, a mixture of flour, eggs, sugar and some flavors, artificial or natural. Not a billboard.  Not an ad campaign.  Not a feature film.  Just a cake.

And can’t a cake just be a cake?  To bake or not to bake – must that be a ponderous question decided by lawyers, judges and juries?

I don’t know.  But bakers in Denver should sell plain, dull cakes devoid of words, images or symbols.  I suppose they can still put candles on the birthday cakes – until someone realizes candles come from petroleum.

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Only a statue?

Ernie BanksErnie Banks died Friday night.  For those of you not immersed in Chicago culture and who may not know of Ernie, he was Chicago’s most famous sports hero before Michael Jordan.

He played baseball for the Chicago Cubs (please note these good words are being written by a White Sox fan).  He was a league MVP.  He was an all-star.  He hit more than 500 home runs and fielded flawlessly.

He was upbeat, positive and loved the game he played so well.  There wasn’t an ounce of pretense in the man and he always had time to sign an autograph for a fan. Nobody didn’t like Ernie, even those of us on the other side of town.

But this column isn’t about Ernie; it is about the misunderstanding some folks have about Catholics and statues.  However, had Ernie not died last week, this topic likely would not have crept into my mind.

There is this great statue of Ernie outside the stadium where he played. (I would mention the name of the place, but there is only so far a Sox fan can go.) It shows him in his beloved batting stance and it is a place where tourists like to have their pictures taken.  And the Cubs and City of Chicago are going to transport the statue downtown to Daley Plaza this week so people can pass by and pay their respects.

That’s right.  People will stop by the statue and pay their respects.  I expect people will doff their hats, maybe say a prayer, enjoy a few memories.  Tears are certain to collect in more than a few eyes.

If you ask people why they are visiting a bronze image of a departed man, I expect they will say things like:  I just want to do something…it felt good to say hello…I remembered the time he signed my mitt…I know Ernie would appreciate it.

These are the sorts of things that go through my mind when I stop by a statue of saint, although I don’t know of a saint who ever autographed a mitt.

Our parish just ordered a statue of Padre Pio.  Our pastor has a special regard for him, as do a number of us in the parish.  The statue will be in the main church and I expect folks will stop by, look, say a prayer, remember something Padre Pio said or did and therein be renewed a bit in their faith.

I’m certain that Cubs fans are well aware that the statue of Ernie isn’t really Ernie – just an artistic mass of bronze. Nobody worships Ernie’s statue.

And despite what some people might believe, Catholics really do understand that a statue is a statue – not the actual person it represents.  We don’t worship statues. But a statue can serve to trigger our memories, increase our devotion, maybe even help us strengthen our faith.

We Catholic sure could use a few more men like Padre Pio.  And the Cubs sure could use a few more men like Ernie Banks.

A fisherman’s hope

Now as he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men. And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him. And when he had gone a little further thence, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets. And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him. – Mark, Chapter One

nice fish
nice fish

I’m a fisherman, so I’m not surprised that Jesus went to the fishermen to find his first disciples.

No, I’m not suggesting that I would have been worthy to be selected for such an honor.  But there is something burning in the heart of every fisherman that Christ knew He needed in those first disciples:  HOPE.

Let me explain…I have been known to spend the better part of a day casting lures all over a lake, trying to catch a fish.  When the conditions are less than ideal, I might cast hundreds of times before finally catching a fish.  But like all fisherman, I hope that the next cast will be the one that connects with, as fishermen say, a “nice” fish.  No matter how bad my luck…I hope it will change in a flash.  And sometimes it does!

That’s the sort of thinking the disciples needed.  They were fishing for men who might be open to the call of the gospel.  And as they would certainly learn, some days the men just weren’t biting.  People can be cynical, resistant, negative, grumpy.  I have known bass and pike with the same characteristics.  But at least the fish are good to eat.

Picture this

150118-miss-universe-11a_d5ecc16615c5e0eb6f221f2563d313e3

I expect people who organize contests like the Miss Universe pageant spend lots of time worrying about pictures.

First, they have to make sure that every picture of a contestant shows them happy and smiling, looking as wholesome as possible in an itsy bitsy teeny weenie bikini.

Second, they have to hope that no pictures of the contestants show up on the internet showing the young ladies in less than an itsy bitsy teeny weenie bikini.

But a few days ago an apparently even more appalling controversy arose when a picture appeared showing two contestants standing next to each other, Miss Israel and Miss Lebanon.  They weren’t fighting or smooching, just standing there looking pretty.

Well…it seems Lebanon considers Israel to be its enemy and bans contact between the two countries.  And while in my mind this was hardly a threatening sort of contact (actually more of a near association), it got the folks back in the Cedar groves really upset.  And Miss Lebanon claimed she tried to avoid Miss Israel, who apparently was bounding about promoting peace and love.

Frankly, I’ve never been a Miss Universe fan.  The participants just stand around looking pretty and proclaim their desire for world peace, kindness to animals and the benefits of healthy herbs.  But we’re a long way from world peace if it upsets an entire country when two girls stand beside each other for a selfie.

Flying high

This is how a Laughing Catholic would travel to Davos -- in his dreams.
This is how a Laughing Catholic would travel to Davos — in his dreams.

Poor Switzerland has been subjected to an epidemic of irony this week.

It comes in the form of the World Economic Forum.  The irony is that the forum includes lots of politicians and business leaders who are drowning in wealth but are talking about how much they care about the poor and downtrodden.

  • The forum attendees insist something must be done about global warming; they arrived in more than 1700 private jets.
  • They espouse income equality; a ticket to attend costs $40,000.
  • There is much wringing of hands over the unequal treatment of women; only 17 percent of the participants are female persons.

I’m sorry, but I can’t take someone very seriously when they are expressing concern about the poor while nibbling on caviar at exclusive hotel.

If I were running this event it would be at a Holiday Inn in New Jersey.  Public transportation only. Cold cereal for breakfast, hot dogs for lunch, salad bar for dinner.  $100 a day room and meals – extra for HBO.

If someone really wants to help others, don’t tell me how much you care – act like it.

Papal pistachio

gusta papa

I love the Pope.  I agree with him about everything having to do with Catholic doctrine.

We part ways from time to time on non-doctrinal issues.  I think he might be misinformed about climate change.  He backs the wrong soccer team.  But how could anyone not like the man?

Pope Francis is joyful, direct, hard-working and down-to-earth.  And he serves ice cream on Air Papa.  According to press reports (you have to believe the press ate most of the ice cream) the ride to Rome from the Philippines included a choice of pistachio, malted milk or brown butter almond brittle.

I would have gone for one of each.

I am not a rabbit

group of bunnies

Pope Francis got lots of attention by suggesting that Catholics shouldn’t breed like rabbits.  Makes for a great headline, huh?

But the reality of the comment was a bit more complicated.  The media immediately assumed that he was saying that Catholics shouldn’t have lots and lots of children; everyone knows rabbits are amazingly prolific.

Rabbits also will mate at the drop of a hat with any rabbit of the opposite gender.  They aren’t on the list of animals that mate for life (unfortunately, humans are struggling to qualify for the list, too).

Black vultures mate for life.  Wolves mate for life.  French angelfish mate for life, which is more than can be said of many French humans.  Bald eagles mate for life, which makes me glad that at least one symbol of America retains an ounce of respectability.

By asking Catholics not to breed like rabbits, the Pope is suggesting more than simply not having a lot of children.  In fact, I don’t think it is a numbers game; it is about love, responsibility, chastity and (this is scary to many) discipline.

Like Spider said, with great power comes great responsibility.  And the power to create a human life needs better management than a rabbit’s sex-driven brain could provide.  And within Catholic teaching, that means a couple can make a decision NOT to have sexual relations because they can’t afford to care for another child or they carry a genetic flaw or they already have too much in their lives to handle.  But if they choose to have sexual relations, they accept the possibility that God will choose them to bring a new life into the world.

Despite all efforts to make this complicated, it really is quite simple (as opposed to being always easy).  It is well beyond the feeble mind of a rabbit, but not a Catholic.

Smiling in the rain

Enjoying Rome's rain with a smile.
Enjoying Rome’s rain with a smile.

I’m sure there are sensible, practical pagans around the world who are wondering why more than 6,000,000 people would stand in the rain.

Ah…let me count the reasons…

  • They are in the Philippines
  • They are Catholic
  • It is Mass celebrated by the Holy Father
  • It probably happens once in a lifetime

But to be honest, my first reaction was a bit like the non-believers – what insanity.  Then I remembered something I did just about a year ago when I was blessed to visit Rome.

A kind soul gave me a ticket to attend Mass inside St Peter’s, celebrated by the Holy Father.  It was Sunday, and following Mass the Pope was scheduled to pray the Angelus and give a reflection from his window high about the square outside.

It was cold, windy and rainy.  But as soon as Mass finished, I marched into the square and stood in the rain (with a group of friends) and waited for the Pope to appear.  By the time he arrived, we were pretty wet, at least from the knees down.  (Raincoats and umbrellas are imperfect creations.)

Once he appeared, he was too far away that I could barely see him.  And he spoke in Italian, which I don’t understand (except for some of the hand signals drivers in Rome use).

But we all stood there, prayed, cheered, clapped, laughed and celebrated the joy of being with the Holy Father.  It appears I am as insane as the folks in the Philippines.  But it is crazy good.

Where is the fringe?

vfiles10992Pope Francis has named a new flock of Cardinals.  Most of the big-name commentators had to scramble for their Catholic directors to find out who they are; they are not from major, cosmopolitan cities or places that jetsetters in New York or Paris usually go for get-away weekends.

I read comments like….”they are from the ends of the earth”….or….”they come from the fringes”…..or…..”they are not from important places of influence.”

Frankly, this isn’t anything new, although perhaps it isn’t a recent practice.  In the year 33 BC (yes, I still use the old way of dividing time), a baby was born in Bethlehem, which wasn’t considered to be the center of the known universe.  That baby boy, Jesus, grew up in Nazareth, another place of little apparent consequence.  His dad was a carpenter and his mom just a small-town girl.  When he started his public ministry, he picked a fisherman from Galilee to help him.  And one of his greatest apostles was a tent maker from Tarsus, wherever that was.

If God had picked people from important places to do his most important work, Christ would have been born in Rome, perhaps of parents from Athens.  Jesus would have picked his aides from Alexandria, Constantinople, Syracuse and Carthage.

Instead, Christ recruited a bunch of fishmongers.

Now, I don’t mean to in any way suggest that a bishop from a large, influential city can’t be wise, holy and a great Cardinal.  But faith isn’t determined by how wide your city’s streets are, the number of Fortune 500 companies in your diocese or whether you are in the United States or Western Europe.

There were no kings or princes among Christ’s disciples.  They were poor men from a poor land in need of healing and salvation.  Those guys did a pretty good job and I expect the new cardinals will do just fine.  Besides, who is to say that wherever anyone is sitting is on the fringes?  Maybe it is the center of the universe.

Self ordination

d4c8a7c409cd393670b84e98b691b7b9Earlier this week, I read that a woman in Kansas City was ordained to the Catholic priesthood.  I am skeptical.

I’m a pretty observant guy and I’m certain that nothing has changed that would suddenly allow a woman to become a Catholic priest (not even the Huffington Post saying it happened).  In fact, if you read the news coverage, the woman declares she is an ordained priest and the media report that the Church disputes her claim.  I guess that leaves it up to the reader to decide the truth.

Why would a woman essentially ordain herself?

A – Sincere (albeit misguided) desire to offer the sacraments to others.

B – Misplaced feminist pride.

C – Heard there was great pay and solid benefits (might want to check this one).

D – Just plain old run-of-the-mill lunacy.

I’m tempted to go with “D.”  But the truth is that if this sort of thing fools at least a substantial part of the population, it is a technique I might try.  I’m working on three news releases:

1 – Jim has been named the new starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears.  Although the Bears dispute his claim, he says he is the quarterback and several close friends agree.

2 – Jim has been named to replace Bono as lead singer for U2.  A spokesman for the group disputes the claim, but Jim says it is true and that he is taking guitar lessons.

3 – In a quiet ceremony involving several retired lawyers and a semi-senile judge, Jim has been sworn in as Member of Congress for the 6th District of Illinois.  Representative Peter Roskam of the 6th District disputes Jim’s claim, but Jim has graciously agreed to share the job with the sitting congressman.

Is it likely I’ll really get to be a professional athlete, rock star or major politician?  No.  But it is just as likely as that woman in Kansas City really being a priest.  And at least I have my dreams.