Happy Start of Your Next Century, St. Anthony’s!

And Happy New Year, 2020 to one and all! Do you have 2020 vision yet?

You can thank our very own Fr. Bob for the 2020 vision joke.

And you can thank our magnificent flower planter-and-tender, Kathy, for the delightful slip of the tongue that resulted in my going “horseshoeing” instead of snowshoeing with Diane and Barb on New Year’s Day! I can think of no better way to ring in a new year.

Our next century is truly off to a wonderfully zany start, after having been rung in both festively and prayerfully by our good friend Fr. Tom Zelinski, whose name we managed to misspell three different ways throughout the course of preparing materials for the New Year’s Eve retreat that he led. While we did consistently manage to spell “Tom” correctly, Zelinski manifested itself variously as “Zelenski,” “Zilinski,” and the improbable, unpronounceable “Zelinksi.” Oh, dear.

This New Year that is off to a festive, prayerful, and zany start is also, regrettably, off to a sniffly start. Various of our friends and community members have been beset with colds and coughs. To add insult to injury, Tracy was felled not just by a cold but also by a cracked tooth that will soon become royalty. Ouch! I, myself, am waiting for the inevitable onslaught of a cold, having spent twelve hours in my car with Patrick’s developing cold as we made our way home in the foggy, rainy darkness from our Christmas visit to Kansas. Time will tell, and God is good! At least the members of this joyous household are all, like birds come cozily to roost, safely home again from our various travels – Fr. Bob to family and friends nearby, Tracy to family and friends slightly further afield, Marge and Flat Friar to new sights in the Ozarks, and I with Patrick to family and friends in Kansas.

Said visit to Kansas turned offered the very same seasonal challenges I had faced here in Marathon before my departure. Namely, my struggles with the complexities of Nativity sets spilled over from Wisconsin to Kansas, leaving me no peace, even in the midst of a time of rest.

Here at home, Fr. Bob, Marge, and I entered the third week of Advent in hot debate about the respective identities of two Nativity figures from the set in our chapel: which was the shepherd, and which was Joseph? Meanwhile, in Kansas, in those last few days before Christmas, my father and I were confronted with the challenge of a sheep who seemed to be incapable of fitting comfortably within the tableau displayed on the lawn of my parents’ church. Worse yet, we were confronted with a devoutly adoring Mary and a devoutly adoring Joseph whose gazes were prone to falling anywhere but on the Baby Jesus, unless you angled them into the stable in just the right way. And then of course, in both Kansas and Wisconsin, I was confronted with the perennial problem of where to place the kings: should we leave them in storage until the Feast of the Epiphany? Should we place them, and all of the other figures, in or near the stable from the moment the Nativity set comes out of storage? Or should we move the kings gradually closer to the Nativity set from a distant point, such as the back of the church? And if we move the kings gradually closer, from which direction should they approach the stable? While tradition holds that the wise men traveled in from the east, Fr. Bob has noted that the kings would have been compelled to turn south at Jerusalem. Should they come from the east? From the south? In a diagonal-ish southeast line?

At least the proper number of kings figures in this problem here at home. (As I write this, I realize that the kings belonging to our outdoor nativity set are slated to arrive on Monday, yet I’m not quite sure where they are in their journey to the stable. I hope they haven’t gotten lost.) In Kansas, we needed to worry about the itinerary of only one king and his camel. No one knows what happened to the other two wise men.

These seemingly silly Nativity-set-problems are eminently Franciscan, are they not!? Father Francis would no doubt have agreed that time spent in contemplation of the Incarnation – with all of its messy imperfections and joyous uncertainties – ┬áis time well spent, indeed! As we come dancing into a new year and into St. Anthony’s next century, may we all find joy in the humbling, yet powerful; the overwhelming, yet ordinary, intersection of human and Divine!

Deo Gratias!