Monday, August 23, 2010

Have a Hot Dog - Enjoy the Party

The house looked perfect, inside and out. Michelle and I had labored for two days; we had invited a cadre of friends and family for a summer cook-out and the first guests were due at any time.

Most years our annual outdoor affairs were graduation celebrations; with nine children, it’s a fairly good bet that someone is graduating from something come June. This year was one of the few marking no milestones in the educational careers of the fruits of my loins, so the party was, in the words of my beloved, "just for fun". "We can't go a year without a party - everyone looks forward to them," she intoned, and I reluctantly agreed, anticipating the last-minute flurry of vacuums, dusting, mowing and shopping.

Unfortunately, we are of Polish descent, which means that every surface in the home must be amenable to dining on it. The Poles are known to scrub things twice just because. Cleaning has a different meaning in a Polish home, and though my wife and I are third generation and the obsessive-compulsive need to clean has quite nearly been bred off our DNA, not so our guests. With the eyes of falcons (Polish Falcons?) they would see every dust particle, smear and blemish. And so we cleaned.

As the final seconds ticked by before the first guests arrived, I surveyed my kingdom. The house was dust-free. The windows were crystal clear. The rug was devoid of Lucky Charms. The computer desk was free of cups, plates, and empty yogurt cups. There was no salami in the dvd's. The lawn was a perfect 1.5 inches, soft to the most tender feet. Weeds had been eradicated, flowers dead-headed, and borders trimmed. The tables and chairs were set about the yard, carefully designed to look as though they were not carefully designed. Drinks were set, food was simmering, and gentle strains of jazz wove through the scene like a comfortable old blanket. Even the tomatoes on the vine looked like decorations, as if to say, "here lives a man who can do it all". Sadly, it was too late to cancel the party and extend the moment further.

The party was a huge success - over eighty friends, relatives, and crashers enjoyed themselves. I spent hours at the grill, making hot dogs, burgers, and steaks. Our guests laughed, chatted, and enjoyed one another. Old friends were reunited, and new friends were made. The food was delicious and everyone left with a full belly. A few moments after the last guests said goodbye late that night, I once again surveyed my kingdom. It looked like it had been attacked by Huns.

There were empty cans everywhere. Chip dip dripped from a table. Pretzels were smashed into the blacktop. Wet rings stained the woodwork indoors. Some child smeared mustard on a window. Chairs and tables were scattered everywhere. Dishes were piled in the sink, and left-over's dotted the kitchen counters. A disaster.

I was tired and irritated. The children were half-helping; you know the scenario - walking like zombies, suddenly needing to go to the bathroom, disappearing for several minutes…I was disgusted. We needed to get things back in order, and no one seemed as concerned about it as me. By the time we were finished cleaning I had managed to anger just about everyone, and we went to bed having accomplished little.  Even my beloved said, "You really ticked me off".  Oy.

Had I opened my eyes to reality, I would have been open to the joy of having truly seen what the party was all about - memories and stories, friendships and love. The setting, so carefully executed, was only an avenue to facilitate the true focus of the gathering - our love for family and friends. As the party ended I concentrated on the mechanics of it all. I missed the boat.

As I reflect on that day I see it as a metaphor to a larger reality within our own beloved Church. As Catholics I think many of us concentrate on the mechanics and miss the boat. That is not to say the mechanics are unimportant - the Church facilitates relationships, and we need to carefully keep it "clean" to encourage the spiritual journey to salvation. But we must endeavor with care not to lose the sense of love and brotherhood that marks that journey and gives it meaning. The movement that defined Church as "the people" went too far - structure is integral to its success. But the backlash that concentrates on structure suffers the same error. Our concentration in such thinking is suddenly and necessarily void of the fundamental focus of Christianity - love.

Pope Benedict XVI, in his address to the Rome Diocesan Congress, clarified the focus of our Christian life and the role the institutional Church plays in fostering that focus:

"Anyone who knows he is loved is in turn prompted to love. It is the Lord himself, who loved us first, who asks us to place at the center of our lives love for him and for the people he has loved. It is especially adolescents and young people, who feel within them the pressing call to love, who need to be freed from the widespread prejudice that Christianity, with its commandments and prohibitions, sets too many obstacles in the path of the joy of love and, in particular, prevents people from fully enjoying the happiness that men and women find in their love for one another. On the contrary, Christian faith and ethics do not wish to stifle love but to make it healthy, strong and truly free: This is the exact meaning of the Ten Commandments, which are not a series of "no's" but a great "yes" to love and to life. Human love, in fact, needs to be purified, to mature and also to surpass itself if it is to be able to become fully human, to be the beginning of true and lasting joy, to respond, that is, to the question of eternity which it bears within it and which it cannot renounce without betraying itself."

Without the Church our party is out of control. Without the guests the Church has no function. As in all things, there is a balance and a need for moderation. Without it we just "tick each other off".


  1. Praised be Jesus Christ!
    now and forever!

    Thank you for posting this.
    I can relate to that kitchen sink visual.....
    I have a large family, and at the gatherings, there are conversations, food, and fun, but we can produce quite a mess....
    the clean up committee is not always cheerful .. however, ..
    as our Beloved Holy Father is clear to point out..
    we need purification..
    "Human Love in fact , needs to be purified"

  2. "I was disgusted. We needed to get things back in order, and no one seemed as concerned about it as me. By the time we were finished cleaning I had managed to anger just about everyone, and we went to bed having accomplished little" - ME, to a T. Glad you're back, brother.

  3. Good to be back, brother, and thank you for the tag!

  4. David, I am so happy that you came back! It is one of the only ways i have to keep focused on The Way. Thank you, Love always and anyway, Virgis

  5. That is by far the greatest compliment and challenge I have ever received. Thank you.

  6. Amazing Dave! I identified with it SO MUCH (especially after coming off throwing two birthday parties and having my parents come to stay over the past 3 weekends!) Especially the same portion that Christpher noted... Me, to a T as well :)
    Really thought-provoking and right on...


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