Sunday, May 19, 2013

God: The Ultimate One-Upper

A while back my younger brother, in a fit of introspection, asked me, "Do you think I am a one-upper?"

I had to admit, he is a bit of a one-upper. All of us brothers are one-uppers, to some extent. That is, we inherit our Dad's love for anecdotes, some more and some less. Any story you can tell us triggers a story in reply. We don't set out to one up, but sometimes the stories are just one-uppish type stories.  When you have been in the Navy for six years and cruised all around Europe and the Mediterranean the subject matter you have to draw from is pretty rich.

However, I really believe that as much as we Kraeger males like to one-up people around us, we ain't got nothin' on God. He is the ultimate one-upper. He even says so: "Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Luke 6:38. No matter what you give to Him or to anyone else, He is going to one up you.

This truth was brought home to me today by my experience in going to Mass. I wrote recently about the church I found near Kathmandu, and what the experience of attending Mass there meant to me. Well it has been a couple of weeks since I had a Sunday off but this weekend I had three days off. The problem was that I am not completely independent here. I am a member of a team, and I cannot just go where I want or do what I want. Half the group wanted to go do things elsewhere, so that took up half of the guys and one of the vehicles and drivers. Even on days off we still have to have guys on duty and that takes up people there. The rest of the guys needed to get out and do some shopping, which I did not need because I had been working in the city for some days. So when we planned out our weekend I was left on duty. Ordinarily I don't mind that, but it was a Sunday off and I hadn't been to Mass in weeks. I was aching for the sacraments. 

So I had to ask. I had to ask one of the other guys if he would switch days with me so that I could go to Mass, even though I had been in the city for several days earlier. I had to ask the guys who were going down to leave very early in the morning on a day off so I could make it in time. 

I don't like asking people for things. I especially don't like asking for help from the other guys. They do not believe, therefore they do not understand why this is important to me. I don't want to be seen to be using my religion for my own personal gain. I don't want to give them reason to think that faith and being a good soldier are incompatible. 

But then I have to ask myself, what is really important? What is most important? If I believe what the Church teaches, that confession really does forgive sins, and that the Eucharist is truly the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, and if I really do have an opportunity to receive these gifts, how can I justify not exhausting every resource to be able to receive them?

One of the things that made me more able to accept the embarrassment was the certain knowledge of God's one-upsmanship. Sometimes He arranges things so that following Him is possible, but inconvenient, simply so that I will have to brave the inconvenience. It makes me value the following more. (This is a pattern in our relationship. You get used to it after awhile.) However, my experience has been that when He requires an unusual effort on my part, He comes back with an unusual result. Or maybe another way of looking at it is that when He has some unusual gift in store the devil goes to unusual length to discourage me. Maybe a little of both. Who knows? Certainly not me. I just know that I have not yet put on ounce of effort into my faith that has not been rewarded a hundred times over. 

So I swallowed that lump of pride and asked. It made some waves, sure enough, but the guys are more or less used to me going to unusual lengths to go to Mass. Their plans were more flexible and could be done another day easily enough, and the switch was made. 

So we left bright and early this morning, careening at a breakneck pace along the narrow winding road to Kathmandu, but the hiccups were not over yet. The driver did not know exactly where the church was, even though I had the address written down on a sheet of paper, and we were cutting it close on time. One of the other guys in the car had plans that also had a time hack, and he didn't want to waste time searching around for a church, so I had them drop me off at the bridge to Lolitpur, intending to let them go on their way while I found a cab. I would just show the cabby the piece of paper with the address... Oh Crap. I forgot the slip of paper. 

To late to go back for it now. I remembered two words of the address, and armed with those I hailed the nearest cab and jumped in, saying a prayer that he would know what I was talking about. He got the city and section of town (those were the two words I remembered) but didn't know which street (that was the word I forgot). He knew of several churches, and with time rapidly ticking away the two of us roamed around Lolitpur, asking other taxi drivers and random strangers if they knew of any churches in the area. As we were directed to them we drove there and I gave them a yeah or nay. I'm sure he was wondering what could possibly be so different between one western church and another, but he was a good sport about it. Finally, with a minute to spare (literally) I recognized a street and shouted "There!" pointing down the alley. He slammed on the brakes, and then backed up and did a fifteen point turn in the middle of the street. I am sure that earned us some bad thoughts from the other drivers.

But I made it, and walked in in the middle of the opening hymn. 

The church was full, and the altar was a sea of red vestments. Of course, it is Pentecost sunday. I knew that from reading Morning prayer for the last ten days. I have been counting down to Pentecost for weeks. 

What I didn't know was the Our Lady of the Assumption chose Pentecost Sunday to confirm seven of their young people and the Mass was being celebrated by he Apostolic Nuncio to Nepal and India, His Excellency Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio, and concelebrated by His Excellency the Bishop of Nepal, Msgr A Sharma SJ. There were at least a dozen other priests on the altar, some of the most reverent altar servers I have seen since I was last at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Verona, NY, incense, full choir, the whole smells and bells experience. To top it off, Archbishop Pennacchio bestowed upon us the Apostolic Blessing of Pope Francis, and Archbishop Sharma had received a similar privelege from Blessed Pope John Paul II, and even had a relic of Blessed JPII for us to venerate. And just as the last little bit of showmanship, I went to confession after Mass and the priest was a charismatic priest with an epic Indian/British accent who prayed fire and brimstone over me for about five minutes. They practically blessed the hell out of me today!

When I told my girlfriend about it later over the phone her comment was, "Whoah! I wonder what crazy thing He is prepping you for." Which I agree, I do have a tendency to get suspicious when extraordinary graces are bestowed, because I have to wonder what is coming next. 

But what the heck! Why worry? God's love is not a come and go thing. This is not an example of Him loving me any more than He ever does, and if some trial comes up soon it will not be an example of Him loving me less. This was an example of showmanship, if it is not irreverent to use that word. A showing. A manifestation. Just like a birthday or Christmas or "just because" present is an example of showmanship, a special expression of a love that transcends that gift, so this was just a special gift.

And I think He likes showing off for His kids. What Father doesn't?


  1. This is TOTALLY relevant to your past few posts!

    1. Ha ha! That is an awesome post. Thanks for referring it.