Solomon, Boxcar Willie, & Gran’pa


The Readings for Thursday, 4th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

ἰσχύσεις καὶ ἔσῃ εἰς ἄνδρα
confortare, et esto vir
וְחָזַקְתָּ֖ וְהָיִ֥יתָֽ לְאִֽיש
Take Courage and show yourself a man.

This is one of those places where the Greek of the LXX, the Masoretic Hebrew, the Latin of Jerome and the English all line up. Take courage and be a man.

Life is like a mountain railroad,
With an engineer that’s brave;
We must make the run successful,
From the cradle to the grave;
Watch the curves, the fills, the tunnels;
Never falter, never quail;
Keep your hand upon the throttle,
And your eye upon the rail.

I can imagine Solomon coming to his Father’s deathbed… 

In those last days of the 20th Century whenever there was a cheap, last minute fare from San Francisco to Atlanta, I would book a flight on Tuesday and be at SFO Friday, after work. Most times it was a redeye. Mom would meet me at Hartsfield in Atlanta, and we’d be at Grandpa’s house before Lunch. (Sometimes we’d stop at the Varsity and surprise Grandpa and his wife with chili dogs and fried peach pies. I would be in San Francisco by 10AM on Monday, just a bit late for work. 

Grandpa had been unable to do much, but to get up and move from the Bedroom to the Living room for most of two years. There had been some trips out, yes. And, for a while, he had welcomed guests, sitting around the living room. Even then, meals usually happened without him present at the table. At Thanksgiving or his Birthday we might gather around him for grace, but I usually led grace because his breathing was bad. In the final months there was an oxygen tank to move. So, often, staying in bed was easier.

Blessed Savior, Thou wilt guide us,
Till we reach the blissful shore,
Where the angels wait to join us
In Thy praise forevermore.

I was able to get home a couple of times after 9/11 on this plan, before Amurica Muscled Up her security and made travel far less free than it had been previously. And I was there for time between Christmas and New Years. But leaving there, that morning in January of 2002, Grandpa had not gotten out of bed, so we went to his bedroom to say our goodbyes. And he hugged Mom and said she should drive safe: she didn’t like his new beard. He hugged me really close and whispered into my ear. “Live a good life”.  

I held myself together walking to the car, but Mom and I were both crying as we drove away, because I would never see him again. It’s one of those moments…

Solomon is standing there, not sure what to say to this man who fathered him, who killed a giant, whom God picked, who ran from the king, who lost his son, his father, and his best friend in rebellions; a poet to whom God spoke as to a dear Friend, bypassing prophets and priests unless they were needed to make a point. Were Solomon to know that even today this man’s poetry is read 4-9 times daily by every priest, by every Monk it would make it all the more terrifying, I think. Even were Solomon to know the impression he would make on History, it’s this man, passing away now, that made that possible.

What do you say? And sure there were tears.

You will roll up grades of trial;
You will cross the bridge of strife;
See that Christ is your conductor
On this lightning train of life;
Always mindful of obstruction,
Do your duty, never fail;
Keep your hand upon the throttle,

And your eye upon the rail.

ἰσχύσεις καὶ ἔσῃ εἰς ἄνδρα
confortare, et esto vir
וְחָזַקְתָּ֖ וְהָיִ֥יתָֽ לְאִֽיש

Take Courage and show yourself a man.

And keep the charge of the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways, and observe his ceremonies, and his precepts, and judgments, and testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses: that thou mayest understand all thou dost, and whithersoever thou shalt turn thyself: 

Live a good life.

Walk in his ways so that thou mayest understand all thou dost.

Here, the Greek, the Hebrew, and the Latin go someplace (together) that no English bible other than the Douay follows. They all say that following the ways of the Lord will bring you a better sense of what you’re doing. (The Greek says “kata” you’ll be doing things according to the way they should be done…) It only becomes “Prosper” in English, as if the Prophet David were in the Prosperity Gospel. But, no, he tells Solomon to follow the laws of the Lord because then he’ll be doing things right. Live a good life and this will all make sense. Maybe not now.. but then wait. Do your job. Say your prayers. 

That’s all we have to do: pick up the cross, follow Jesus. take nothing for the journey but a walking stick –no food, no sack, no money in your belts. Do your job, say your prayers. Live a good life. 

You will often find obstructions,
Look for storms and wind and rain;
On a fill, or curve, or trestle
They will almost ditch your train;
Put your trust alone in Jesus,
Never falter, never fail;
Keep your hand upon the throttle,

And your eye upon the rail.

Grandpa was dead by Epiphany. Delta broke every new rule in the book to get me there for the funeral. And I sang the song that is part of this post at his request: life is like a mountain railway. Only he and I would get it: for I learned my rootless ways from him, the man who had ridden the rails as a hobo, who had journeyed to the Panama Canal when it was freshly dug, and who had served his country keeping the Wrong Boats from going up the canal.. and then, later, as an armed guard on an Army Train taking Comstock Silver from San Francisco to the mint in Denver. This song was like Grandpa’s last note to me. Beyond live a good life… it was this.

And recounting even that much, maybe you learn about me too: for he was the only Father I really ever had.  Even though Mom remarried I never bothered to pay much attention to my stepdad until Grandpa passed away.

Solomon, resting on David’s bed, heard lead a good life. It’s hard to breath… and there was time for poets to fill it in later. Follow God’s commands and you will understand it all. Same for Grandpa, he got to pick the poet, though.

As you roll across the trestle,
Spanning Jordan’s swelling tide,
You behold the Union Depot
Into which your train will glide;
There you’ll meet the Sup’rintendent,
God the Father, God the Son,
Welcome good and faithful servant,
Weary pilgrim, welcome home!”

Blessed Savior, Thou wilt guide us,
Till we reach the blissful shore,
Where the angels wait to join us
In Thy praise forevermore.

Look: you gotta go say goodbye. And you love them. You do gotta say it. It makes all the difference. All of it.

Similam Frixam Oleo!


The Readings for Tuesday, 3rd Week of Ordinary Time (B2): 

Ecce mater mea et fratres mei.
Behold my mother and my brethren. 

My Freshman year in College, I won a preaching award with this Gospel. In fact, it was an annual award, open to all students. I was the first freshman to win it. Behold the oddities of Protestant preaching: when a preacher makes a good delivery, and can back up his preaching with decently researched Bible quotes, it is his interpretation that matters. Even though everyone on the committee disagreed with me, I still won. In giving me the $250, the college chaplain acknowledged that he disagreed with me, but that I had given a well-written, passionate, and well-delivered sermon.

I was so wrong in my sermon. 34 years later I think with horror of my poking at the non-sacramental evangelicals who filled the halls of The King’s College. But a well-written, passionate, and well-delivered sermon is all anyone really wants on a Sunday afternoon in that world: and maybe some good music. If we all go home and talk about the sermon – even how much we disagreed with the content – but can come up with our own well-written, passionate, and well-delivered sermon for later, maybe one of us will get to be a guest preacher one day.

Still, I was horribly wrong in my sermon. It started out well: in this Gospel Jesus seems to dis his own family of birth in favor of a family of choice. I went horribly wrong after that, but in the opening line of the sermon I was right:

St Bede says, Being asked therefore by a message to go out, He declines, not as though He refused the dutiful service of His mother, but to shew that He owes more to His Father’s mysteries than to His mother’s feelings. Nor does He rudely despise His brothers, but, preferring His spiritual work to fleshly relationship, He teaches us that religion is the bond of the heart rather than that of the body. Wherefore it goes on, “And looking round about on them which sat about Him, He said, Behold My mother and My brethren.” And St John Chrysostom adds, By this, the Lord shews that we should honour those who are relations by faith rather than those who are relations by blood. A man indeed is made the mother of Jesus by preaching Him; for He, as it were, brings forth the Lord, when he pours Him into the heart of his hearers. (Both of these are cited by St Thomas Aquinas in his Catena Aurea.)

This is our family: we are initiated into this family by having one great King and High Priest who is our Father in the Faith,  Jesu, Pater Futuri Saeculi, Jesus Father of the Future World, as the Litany of the Holy Name puts it, and Pater Pauperum, Father of the Poor, for we are the poor in spirit, and poor in the eyes of the world for our seemingly stupidity of Faith. We are grafted in to the family of God prefigured by King David, who, bringing the Ark of God to rest in Jerusalem, feasted all of Israel as one would feast one’s own family.  

Benedixit populo in nomine Domini exercituum. Et partitus est universae multitudini Israel tam viro quam mulieri singulis collyridam panis unam, et assaturam bubulae carnis unam, et similam frixam oleo : et abiit omnis populus, unusquisque in domum suam.

He blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts. And he distributed to all the multitude of Israel both men and women, to every one, a cake of bread, and a piece of roasted beef, and fine flour fried with oil: and all the people departed every one to his house. 

(Regardless of what the NABRE says, similam frixam oleo does not mean raisin cakes but fried in oil… David was giving out… well, the Hebrew is חַלָּה, challah: bread used for the sacrifices. The Greek says, “Cake Bread”. The Latin however, says “flour fried in oil” which an only mean pancakes and that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

Why is the King blessing folks? Because David is a Priest-King, the father of his people, treating all of his nation as his family, as his children. This is why, in older style, a King is called “Sire”. Not because it’s a pompous pronunciation of “sir” but because he is the Father of his People. David is the Anointed Messiah, the prefigurement of the Christ. 

Jesus is our Sire, in the spiritual sense, in the only sense that really matters, uniting all peoples into one. The entire church is a family, into which we must draw all people for outside the Church there is not our family, at least yet.

Today I am mindful Family of St Dominic into which I find myself grafted: the living Dominican Tradition present in my parish, the Dominican Friars that run it, the Dominican sisters that teach there, the Dominican cloistered nuns that serve as spiritual advisors, the Dominican Tertiaries which I am petitioning to join, the Dominican priestly fraternity that I cannot escape even when I go to another parish for Mass, together with all the Dominicans I’m coming to know online and off… this is a huge family, and a blessed one. These are my family in a real and present way. I daily find myself uplifted by their prayers and by the prayers of so many Dominican saints and blesseds! 

This clan though, growing through time and space, is only one branch of the vine of Christ: through centuries  and all the globe, in heaven, purgatory and on the earth. The one great family of man united in Christ, the God-man, and through him united to the Holy Trinity in one great fellowship of love.

These are my mothers, brothers, and fathers.

The verse .3