Well, my home parish has invited me back to lead the Triduum for St. Ann next week. The mission runs in the evenings from Monday to Wednesday (July 23-25). If you're in that neck of the woods, feel free to stop in!
I'm very excited, despite the fact that Jesus said "Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place." (yikes) ... and then they tried to throw Him off of a cliff. Nah, I'm not nervous.... because South Jersey has no cliffs! Hah Ha! That's right, we're flat-landers! The Pine Barrens, where I used to wander as a youth, has to be one of the flattest, most monotonous, and deeply beautiful stretches of God's green earth I've ever seen.
What a gift and an honor to be invited home! To offer some reflections on living a life of faith, of seeing this world of wonders, and each other, as gifts as well. Not to say the talks won't challenge us too... Would it be the Gospel if it didn't stir us up, shake us from our comfort zones, expand our horizons and call us to a journey into the deep, perhaps into Mordor itself! It's all about conversion, turning around, facing His Face again, and letting Him look deeply into our hearts. Please say a prayer that I voice the sweet summons of the Gospel, and only what He wants to be spoken. May the words of St. John the Baptist become my mantra: "He must increase, I must decrease."
Anyhoo, we'll be heading over to Jersey this weekend.... back to the home turf, the 'ole stompin' grounds. I hope to visit one of my old haunts to get ready for the mission (no, not Alba's Pizza, home of the greatest Sicilian Pie ever crafted by human hands). I mean White's Bogs, that desert of pine trees and cranberry pools that formed me; the Fortress of Solitude that made my brother and I look not only up to the Creator but down to the Master Dreamer Who showed us the intricately carved beauties of His works. And in those wild and wide open vistas, in all kinds of weather, we treasured the gifts the Master Painter gave us.
I'm looking forward to the smell of the cedar water, the shrill cries of the red-winged black bird, the egret, and the laughter of the chickadee. I couldn't tell you how many hours we spent wandering those quiet places, and every season turned a new page; the tundra swans in early winter, the warblers in the spring, swimming in the clear back lake, and driving the dirt roads in the summer, laughing and singing John Cougar Mellencamp, as the sun tipped and set the heads of the white pines ablaze on the horizon, like matches to warm the cool and scented night. The bogs became a book we knew well, and we weathered every page.
So what's your story? What are the pages in the book of your life? Do you ever go back to read them from where you are today? There are lessons we can learn from our past, every moment like a stone we can hold and polish smooth with our thoughts and prayers. Were there wounds and sorrow? Thoughtful prayer can smooth them over. Is there loss and regret? Grace can fill up the deepest valley. Was there joy that has since been left untapped? Reflecting in that pool of memories can bring refreshment again. Our youth still belongs to us, and each experience is uniquely our own and belongs to no one else. So going home, like going on vacation, is a chance for reflection, growth, and gratitude. Let's seize the opportunity! In the immortal words of Ferris Bueller, "Life moves pretty fast.... you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it."
Check out Michael Hogan's beautiful pictures of the Pine Barrens!
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