From Friday April 26, 2013, to Sunday April 28, 2013, 400 *A Course In Miracles* students gathered in Chicago, Illinois, at the historic Congress Plaza Hotel to attend the "A Gift Of Lilies" conference. Near the end of the conference, at the Sunday Service, Rev. Tony Ponticello demirred the sermon. Right before Rev. Tony took the stage, singer Jody Ebling from Boston, MA had sung a rousing version of "Flesh Failures" from the Broadway Musical *Hair*. The entire audience had been singing "Let The Sunshine In." What follows is a lightly edited transcription of that lecture.
Thank you so much! My name is Reverend Tony Ponticello. Strange as it may seem, I was not the first minister that the Community Miracles Center ordained. I was actually the 20th. That's a long story. I'll tell it to you some time. I was the 20th minister the Community Miracles Center ordained, and I was ordained on October 17th, 1997.
I want to take my hat off to all of you. Thank you so much for being here. Really, it means so much to me. (Rev. Tony actually takes off his fedora and drops it at the front of the stage.)
I stand before you naked. (laughter)
When I say that my name is "Reverend Tony Ponticello," there is something you probably don't know. That actually is my name. That is my legal name. It's not a title. My name actually is Reverend "R-E-V-E-R-E-N-D," Tony "T-O-N-Y." That's how the I.R.S. knows me. That's the name on my driver's license. That's the name on everything. I legally changed my name. That's not the name my mother gave me. My mother gave me "Anthony." And it was a big thing when I actually decided that I had to do that. Again, that's a whole other sermon. We're not going to get into that, either, but Reverend Tony is who I am. So when people call me "Reverend Tony," know that it's my name. Damn Facebook, they won't let me put "Reverend Tony" as my name, because they think it's a title. It's not. It's my name.
We all are really good A Course In Miracles students. I'm sure we wouldn't be here if we weren't A Course in Miracles students. There may be some guests, but the majority of us study A Course in Miracles and live it. We all know, one of the key things about A Course in Miracles is asking for guidance. This is just my own little bit of wisdom, that I'd like to put in here, because one of the things new people frequently ask is, "What is guidance for you?" and "How do you know when you hear Holy Spirit guidance?" There's something that always clicks in my mind.
When I was a young boy my family used to put jigsaw puzzles together in my house. My mother loved jigsaw puzzles. We always used to have a jigsaw puzzle out on the table. You know, a picture puzzle. When it's just all these hundreds of pieces, these little pieces, and it looks like nothing goes together. But when you find the right piece, you click the right piece in place, and it's not a piece any more. It's part of the whole picture. Guidance, for me, is like that. I have thoughts, I have confusion, "I don't know. I don't know what to do." Then something just fits into place.
I have a moment, usually when I'm still, and in that silence I get told everything. Then that thought just clicks into place. It becomes the whole picture. It's not a separate thought any more. When I have that picture puzzle experience, then I know that I've got my guidance, and I had that when I walked into this room in 2008. I said, "We're going to be in here." I knew it. It took five years, but here we are.
I like the picture puzzle analogy, because I'm a big picture kind of guy. I like to hold the big picture. That's what I tell the staff when they're getting ready to be staff. Pretty much, I'm a democratic guy, but not at the conferences. (laughter) I've got the big picture. I know so many details, you cannot make me wrong at the conference. (laughter) You can't. This is authoritarianism. I'm right. (laughter) You can give me your thoughts, but then a decision gets made, and that's it. It's mine; that's it. After the conference we can sit down and talk, debrief, and you can tell me what you think I did wrong. I probably will have done a lot of things wrong, but I'm really good with the big picture. That's how I think of guidance. When that thought clicks in, and fits the big picture, then I know. That happens with me about a lot of things.
I do want to clarify something. I do consider myself an A Course In Miracles evangelist. I know that many people sort of get, "eeeeee-e-e"(a nervous sound) They get "eeeeee-e-e" about that. (laughter)
Many people come to A Course In Miracles from 12-Step traditions, which is by attraction not by promotion. If that's the model, then we'll think, "Well, we'll just attract." We think the energy, and the people, will come here to us, and that's good. But this is A Course In Miracles and we are not a 12-Step program. For me, the 12-Step programs are the 12-Step programs. A Course In Miracles and 12-Step programs are both really great in their own place. I believe that at least for me, I don't know for you, but for me, I've got to go out there and spread the word. I want to spread the word. The Course isn't everybody's path, but it's a lot of peoples' path, and I want to reach those people, those people who are waiting for me to talk to them about A Course in Miracles, so that they'll study A Course In Miracles, so they'll have that sense of purpose and self-worth that I have.
People ask me "What do you get out of A Course in Miracles?" and I would like to say I get peace, but that's not really true. (laughter) I keep waiting for that. (laughter) And it hasn't really happened. I'm a happy person. I can't truthfully say I'm a real peaceful person, but I do have a sense of worth and purpose that transcends the world, and let me tell you, there's nothing like that. There is nothing like that – that sense that your life has meaning, value, purpose. I'll deal with a little anxiety and tenseness, if I've got divine purpose – and I do!
That's what A Course In Miracles has given me – that! So that's what I can tell you. That's what I hope to communicate to you. Do you want purpose in your life? Study A Course in Miracles. It's going to train you how to be a Teacher-of-God. It's not going to train you how to be still – maybe, maybe it will. I don't know for sure. But I do know that the Course is going to train you how to be a teacher. We're all student/teachers. We have the Manual For Teachers. That's where it's going.
Okay. That's my background. Yep, I'm a reverend, Reverend Tony Ponticello. Reverends give sermons. That's one of the big things reverends do. I always approach that like, "It's not just my job; it's who I am. I'm Reverend Tony. I gotta give a sermon." (laughter)
So I've given plenty of Palm Sunday sermons and Palm Sunday was always kind of obscure. I didn't quite understand Palm Sunday, because I had all these childhood ideas about Palm Sunday. I was born and raised Catholic. The Ponticellos' were Catholic, and on Palm Sunday it was always rather solemn. I don't know why, really. It was a solemn holiday. It was like, Jesus is going to be crucified in a couple of days. It was like, "uuhhhh" (a groan) we weren't too happy. Then the church gave us these things, which for about thirty years, I thought were palms, but it was really like this little reed. I don't know if you got those things. We just held up this little reed, and it usually went limp. (laughter) I used to try to hold it up and it would like ... (Rev. Tony gestures a slump) And limp is never good. (laughter)
So, we had this little, limp reed and we would process. We would process really quietly around the aisles of the church. Then we would stand there for awhile, and it was very somber. So I didn't get Palm Sunday. I just didn't get it. However, finally through A Course In Miracles, the Palm Sunday teaching got to me. In the reading that Rev. Daniel read, it says, "This is Palm Sunday, the celebration of victory and the acceptance of the truth." (OrEd.Tx.20.1) When I read that I thought, "‘Celebration of victory'? We're getting ready for Jesus to be crucified. What's the victory?"
Then I thought about it, and I then saw some pictures. In olden times, in Jesus' time, palms were big things. They weren't little reeds. The Bible is talking about big palm tree fronds, palm tree branches, and the people would cut them down. They did it to make a big noise, a big show. They would wave big palms fronds, and the people would throw palms fronds out in front of him so he could walk on the palms, like a carpet of palms. It was a way of showing admiration. It's what they did with victorious armies that were coming home. They got out there with what they had. They were the noise makers of the day. They waived palms. They cut them down; they waived them. They threw them at the feet of the victors, and the people cheered! That was such a different idea for me to think of. It was so different than my childhood experience of Palm Sunday. There was nothing solemn about that image. Lo and behold, this seems to be what A Course in Miracles is telling us. "This is Palm Sunday, the celebration of victory." Victory! And then it says something very interesting which relates directly to the theme of our conference. It says, "This week begins with palms and ends with lilies." (OrEd.Tx.20.2) So you get to lilies from palms. You get to lilies from celebrations of victory, maybe loud celebrations of victory, active celebrations of victory. We've had one all weekend long. This active, exciting, wonderful, happy celebration of victory. That's what leads to lilies. It's a big transition to go from thorns to lilies. Might it not be that it's a step-wise thing? There has to be a certain level of celebration and mastery before we can truly give the gift of lilies. So, "This week begins with palms and ends with lilies, the white and holy sign the Son of God is innocent." (OrEd.Tx.20.2)
Lilies are white, pure. I always think of the Calla Lily, that large, white, single petal. I don't think too often of the Easter Lily. The Calla Lily, that single petal, the singularity of, for me especially, purpose – singularity of purpose. My life will be about my purpose. My name is Reverend Tony Ponticello. That is my mission. That is my purpose, and to get to lilies, I have to go through celebration – through the victories that I achieve.
It says a little later on, "A week is short, and yet this holy week is the symbol of the whole journey the Son of God has undertaken. He started with the sign of victory the promise of the resurrection already given him." (OrEd.Tx.20.3) We start this final journey with the sign of victory, palms – that's how we get to lilies.
I don't hear too many people talking about this. Most just brush over the whole palm thing. Nobody talks about palms, and if I wasn't a minister and didn't have to give a Palm Sunday sermon, I probably wouldn't be talking about palms either, but that's how we get there. If we want that singular, purity, innocence, we've got to get to victory in our mirs. We've got to go there. (applause)
As I said, I'm an evangelist. I will talk about A Course in Miracles to anybody who seems to have an ear to listen. I don't think it's the path for everybody, but it is the path for many people, and I think A Course In Miracles is training us to be teachers. Gabrielle Bernstein said it yesterday. She talked about how we need to be teachers. We need to fulfill that teaching function. I know some people have a little trouble with that, but our students are out there. Our students are out there waiting for us. It says in the Manual For Teachers, our students can't make progress until we are there giving them the teaching that we need to give them. And sometimes people have a little challenge with this. They have a little bit of difficulty with that, being so out there. But maybe you've seen me this weekend, and maybe you've seen how out there I am about most types of things. Maybe that will help you when you go out into your worlds and talk with the people that you can talk to, that you interact with. You can bring a little of that palm energy and a little of that confidence. It's how the whole plan is going to work. And every time we do, somebody accepts the message, accepts the truth, accepts the truth of their innocence, accepts the truth that the world that we see is actually an illusion of our own manifestation. It's actually coming from our minds. It's a symbolic representation of our minds. It's not outside of us; it actually is us. The world actually is us! I am walking through me all the time. I am meeting me all the time. I am everybody I meet. I am not just everybody I meet, I am this room that we are in. I am this hotel that we are in. I am this city that we are in. I am Lake Michigan that is outside the door. I'm all of this.
This has been a growing realization for me over the years. Now, when I read A Course In Miracles and it talks about bodies, maybe my body, I don't think about this little hunk of flesh that's kind of encasing my mind. I really think about the entire world as my body. The world is my body. The world is a symbolic representation of my self. It is my body. And, there is sickness in my body. A big bombing in Boston not too long ago. That's not good. That's not supposed to be there. That's not healthy body; that's not supposed to be there. When the Course talks about healing and healing the body; for me that would be healing what happened in Boston. I'm so glad that Jody is here from Boston. (Rev. Tony is referring to Jody Ebling the singer who sang right before Rev. Tony started his lecture.) (applause) Maybe we're helping, and sending a little bit of healing energy to Boston. The massacre in Connecticut, some months ago, at Sandy Hook Elementary School, awful sickness. That's in my body. It's not supposed to be there. I don't want it there.
I want to heal that. I want to do what I can do, to heal that. I want to do what Holy Spirit guides me to do to heal it. I'm not going to pretend it's not me. I'm not going to pretend it's not there. That doesn't work. I want to be active in identifying it as something off, something amiss. We have to identify the errors. Then when we act to heal them, understanding that they're all coming from our minds, when we act to heal them we can shift our minds and shift our selves. We can get a victory in some way, shape, or form. We can waive that palm, and then move to the lilies of transcendent, innocent, singularity. But we're not going to get to that lily while we've got things like Boston and Sandy Hook going on in the world, because the world is us. It's not outside of us. It's us; it's me. It's me! I work at it. I ask for guidance. I get my guidance. It falls into place like a picture in a jigsaw puzzle. I accept responsibility. I accept responsibility for all of it.
I accept responsibility for this nation that we have that's so armed, so many people with guns, and the whole gun violence problem. When that whole gun debate was going on and I was thinking about it, I wrote and I gave sermons about it. One was called, "Guns And Miracles." (Vol.26.No.12) I kept thinking about this line from A Course in Miracles, "For no one walks the world in armature but must have terror striking at his heart." (OrEd.Tx.135.3) I'm not angry or upset with people who feel they want to have guns. There might be many gun owners right here in this audience. It's fine. But I think, "Why do we arm ourselves?" We're that afraid? We have that level of fear? That's a sickness in my body. That's a sickness in my mind. I am here to heal that. I am here to do something about that.
So I asked for a lot of guidance on that when the gun debate was going on, and I got the guidance that told me, "You go to violent movies." I love movies, and the violent ones are some of the best ones. I mean, they make a lot of money, so they have the best directors, the best writers, the best filming, and they're really, really good. When you watch them you get into them, and maybe you have this cathartic experience, and many have a lot of redeeming values.
I'm a real movie buff. I watch all the movies nominated for Academy Awards. Man, if it's nominated I gotta see it. But this year, I decided I wasn't going to go see that Django Unchained. I just wasn't going to do it. It was nominated for Best Picture. Maybe a lot of you saw it. That's fine. I don't have a problem with that. But for me, I wasn't going to see it. I wasn't gonna fill my mind with those violent images any more. I wasn't going to perpetuate this culture of violence that we see going on.
Another bit of guidance I received when I asked for help was – of course it's fitting that we have so many guns in our population. We're the most armed military in the world. It's just a trickle down mentality. Our gun problem is probably never going to have any breakthrough until our military truly disarms. The military is armed, so that's the model right at the top of the pyramid, and so the people arm themselves. That's a sickness. Military is a sickness in my body, and I am going to do what I can do to heal that. I'm not going to say it's impossible. There's no order of difficulty in miracles. I'm moving that teaching beyond the little sicknesses in this piece of flesh. (Rev. Tony gestures towards his own body.) I'm moving it out there to the whole world. There's no order of difficulty. I can stop gun violence. I can stop armed military. I'm open to it. I will do what I can do. When the whole gun thing was going on, President Obama made a big appeal. He said, "Ministers, start preachin' about guns and violence." And you know, my name is Reverend Tony Ponticello! (laughter) It didn't even take an instant to know he was talking to me. (laughter) So, if you don't like this tone of the sermon, blame the President. I didn't do it! (laughter)
We can change this. The truth is, I've had other types of crusades in my life. About eight, ten years ago, I really got it that it was just weird that we didn't allow same sex couples to get married. It's just weird! What the hell was that about? (applause) There's this strange category that some people are somehow "less than." It's discrimination and it's just weird. So I asked for guidance, "What can we do about that?" We have a community blog at the Community Miracles Center, the MOLDG. Any time there was any breakthrough, some state or another country legalized same sex marriage, I always posted it on the MOLDG so we could share the idea and strengthen it. Look what's happening in the country now. Everybody is remarking about it. If you listen to the newscasters, they're all saying, "Nothing has ever changed this fast. No social construct has ever changed this fast." Last week I read something, a group of Republicans are getting together to lobby their fellow Republicans to get on board with same sex marriage. That's just it, they just got to get on board. It's going to happen. The Supreme Court is taking up the issue right now. Who knows exactly how it will happen? But we Miracles students can do things. I feel I did that. I'm claiming responsibility for that. I helped change society's attitudes about same sex marriage. I did my part in getting this acceptance, now, that people of the same gender have every right to be married just like anybody else. Whenever I see a little breakthrough about it, I feel good. I feel proud. I'm helping with that. So that's the way I think about things.
I waive a palm. I waive a palm in celebration to all that. I think we are evolving.
I think we are evolving as a culture. I think we are evolving as a people. When I was a young man, a teenager, the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey came out. Everybody, of course, talks about the mind blowing special effects of that movie. It appeared to be a fantasy actually filmed in space. People talk about that movie, and it was very enigmatic. But people rarely talk about what that movie was actually about. That movie was about the evolution of man. 2001 showed us who we were, how we had evolved from apes, because of some extraterrestrial intervention. Then we evolved, in the end of 2001, to this different creature. We were still a body, but we had the body of an evolved Star Child. Movies like 2001 – they're a reflection. They were a message to me from my Higher Self. That movie hit me like a ton of bricks, and I don't consider it outside of myself. I consider that somehow my soul put that out there, and I took it in. I had a recognition of it. That was what was going on. That was what life was about. Life was about evolving us to another level, to another level of being – glorious, grand, unlimited. Life is not about just figuring out a way to get through this world, and be peaceful, until you pass – not for me any way. It's about being really actively involved in evolving this world. Evolving myself. Evolving the species. Evolving me. Evolving everybody! Growing, growing into a level of greatness, that I don't see that many people embracing. However, more of us are embracing it all the time. More of us have to embrace it. We have to because that's the victory. That's the waiving of the palms. That's what's going to get us to the lilies. We're not going to get there if we don't do that.
That's my guidance. That's what fits, like the jigsaw puzzle when I pop it in place. It just fits, and it makes the whole picture. It helps the world make sense. If this world is not about the evolution of consciousness and human beings, then the world doesn't make any sense to me. If it's about that, then the world makes sense. Then I have a purpose, and I fulfill my purpose. Maybe that's why I'm so hard-working, because, I got it. What else is there to do? I could go see violent movies, I guess, (laughter) but I'm not going to.
When we were launching the publicity for this conference, well over two years ago, I got the guidance that I needed to say something. You know, say something. Get some guidance on what to say, about the conference. When I am really serious about something, I actually do take a little time, light a candle, say a prayer, and go within. Sometimes I do a little burning ritual. I have my moment of silence and in the silence I get told everything. I got this message, and maybe you saw it from the publicity. It says this, "This gathering of miracle workers in Chicago will be a seminal event in the A Course in Miracles movement. It will be a huge game changer. To be there will mean you are a part of the future of the A Course in Miracles movement."("whoop" from the audience)(applause) Thank you! (applause)
On and off, people have quizzed me about it. They asked me why I said that, "Is it just good marketing?" I said, "No. I said that because in the silence, that's what I got to say." I still connect with that game changing thought. I connected with that thought all the way through two years and with a little rough going with some things. There are difficulties and issues that happen when you plan something like this, and you just got to carry through. And I carried through because I knew this conference was going to be a big game changer. It was going to be a big thing in the future of A Course in Miracles movement, and it was the Community Miracles Center's job, and my job personally, to make it happen.
It gave my life tremendous purpose for two years.
We all have greatness ahead of us. I believe that. I believe as A Course In Miracles students we all have absolutely great things ahead. Greatness that's ... who knows? Who knows what greatness is in front of us. I do think we have waived a palm of victory here at this conference, and I think that means that we're ready to waive more palms. And I think that means that we're ready to bring more gifts of lilies all throughout this world. There is nothing that we cannot heal. We can heal every sickness that is out there in our own bodies and in the body of the world. In the body of the universe. I just invite you all to embrace that mission with me. If you embrace that mission, I will support you, every step of the way, because that's my energy and that's what I do, Reverend Tony Ponticello. (applause)
(Rev. Tony starts singing acappella the song "Flesh Failures" from the Broadway musical *Hair*.)
"Somewhere inside something,
There is a rush of greatness
Who knows what stands in front of our mirs.
I fashion my future on films in space.
Silence tells me secretly, everything, everything.
Let the sunshine, Let the sunshine in, the sunshine in."
I love you all so much. Thank you for coming. (applause) ♥
c/o Community Miracles Center
2269 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94114
This article appeared in the April 2013 (Vol. 27 No. 2) issue of Miracles Monthly. Miracles Monthly is published by Community Miracles Center in San Francisco, CA. CMC is supported solely by people just like you who: become CMC Supporting Members, Give Donations and Purchase Books and Products through us.