Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Be Careful What You Pray For


I am weak and sinful. (Aren't we all? The key is recognizing this in ourselves and not just others.) I pray. I don't pray well, nor do I pray often enough. But I pray.

I have been praying for persecuted Christians everywhere. I see pictures in my head of the Syrian children clinging to life in tiny boats, and one small body washed up on the shore. I hear the screams of terror from the slain Sisters of Charity. I weep for those who've lost loved ones in the violence that pervades our own society. I pray for peace and understanding.

God always takes our prayers seriously. I know this, not only because of my own experience, but the experience of the many, many souls who have come before me. One of them is St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

She was born Edith Stein, a German Jew. She was exceptionally bright, going on to study the philosophical field of phenomenolgy. (Look it up. It's tough stuff.) As a woman and a Jew in the early 20th century, she could not find a teaching position at the university level.

She also was a convert to Catholicism. Her intellect guided her: she was seeking Truth and nothing but. She also longed to join the Carmelite order, but her conversion was very difficult on her mother, a devout Jew. Edith's spiritual director told her to delay her entrance into the monastery for the sake of her mother.

As Edith's spiritual life was deepening, her nation was collapsing. Hitler became the leader of a Germany that was coming undone. She taught for awhile at a girls' school, and then eventually entered her beloved Carmel.
In 1930, Stein wrote of her foreboding sense of divine mission. “After every encounter in which I am made aware how powerless we are to exercise direct influence, I have a deeper sense of the urgency of my own Holocaustum.”
 Stein’s use of the word Holocaustum in 1930 was radical. What did she imagine was the urgency of her “own Holocaustum”? She literally saw herself as offering her life as a sacrifice, but a sacrifice to what, and why? Was she a mystic who saw the end of German Jews? Stein first wrote about the meaning of her future death in her last will and testament, composed on June 9, 1939: I pray to the Lord that he may accept my living and dying ... as an atonement for the Jewish people’s unbelief and so that the Lord may be accepted by his own and that his reign may come in glory, that Germany may be saved and that there be peace in the world.
 As I said, be careful what you pray for. Stein was wholly aware that she would die at the hands of the Nazis, but wanted to offer herself up as atonement.

I won't get into all the theology of this idea of atonement, especially in Jewish thought. However, die she did, along with her sister, in Auschwitz.

Back to my prayers for persecuted Christians. I am no saint, although I aspire to sainthood. God has gifted me with some suffering to bring a bit more "bang to my buck" when it comes to these prayers. I have cysts on my spine that are causing me a great deal of pain. I have been referred to a state university neurosurgery center for treatment of these rare cysts, known as Tarlov cysts.

I consider Edith Stein to be a close friend, a sister in Christ. I beg her intercession for my health, but I also follow her lead in offering up suffering for those around me. Be careful what you pray for.

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Best Response To Criticism Is Joy

The past few weeks were rocky. An attorney decided that it was a good idea to call my Dark-Haired Daughter horrible names. As much as I tried to shield my daughter from what was swirling around her, she found out and was understandably devastated.

I assured my daughter, as she cried tears of both anger and pain, that none of this had anything at all to do with her, and everything to do with the attorney who chose to act in this manner. But my balm was weak against these mighty wounds. The familiar sounds of PTSD were howling at the door of my daughter's heart.

Yet, we had a party to put on. Dark-Haired Daughter has completed her formal education, and a celebration was in order. In the scheme of things, it wasn't that big of a deal. In fact, you couldn't miss the dozens of handmade signs and balloons marking dozens of houses in our small town this weekend. It's that time of year.

But, as we all know, it IS a big deal. And for Dark-Haired Daughter, it was an even bigger deal. She had seen her brothers and sister have such parties and she thought this would never happen for her. But it did. And we threw a party.

Cake, lemonade. Cards, gifts. Coleslaw, kids. People spread out over our yard, our house. Kids colored with sidewalk chalk and a soccer ball got kicked around. Our friends rejoiced with our daughter, who glowed all day.

Yesterday, for awhile, she felt no sting of the pain from two weeks ago. Yesterday was all about joy: the joy of an accomplishment, the joy of thanksgiving for loved ones, the joy of seeing a daughter grow. While no major world problems have been solved with cake and lemonade, I can tell you that one girl's pain was eased and that meant the world to us.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Where is Christ? Take Me to the Alley

My worldly life is one of ownership: a house, a car, furniture. I have way too many shoes (but I'll keep on buying them!) and a lot of jewelry, which tell a story about me. I love clothing and fashion.

My spiritual life is Franciscan. Yes, I acknowledge: I am either the world's worst Franciscan or God has a delightful sense of humor (it's both.) The world has it all upside-down: "stuff" is not to be our focus. Our focus begins and ends at the foot of the Cross.

I'm not sure if Gregory Porter realizes it, but his latest album has what I consider (like Gregory Porter cares about my opinion....) the perfect Franciscan song. And I have not been able to get it out of my head.

Where is Christ? Where must we go if we are to find Him, accompany Him, learn from Him? We must go to the alleys. The dirty places. The lonely places. The places where the lost and forgotten gather. Where hope goes to die.

Take me to the alley.



Friday, June 3, 2016

"A Good and Spacious Land"



Ring of Kerry, Ireland: author's photo
Isn't that a beautiful phrase: "a good and spacious land"? It's from Exodus 3:8, as God is giving Moses his commission to help free the Israelites.

I think it sounds like the title of a great book or story, maybe something by Flannery O'Connor. Of course, if it was something she wrote it would be a rather dark look at the good and spacious land.

We need to remember that Scripture is not dead - it's not simply stories of long ago, or lessons to people in another place and time. Scripture is the living Word of God. It has meaning for us, here, now, today.

There was something about that phrase that resonated with me as I was praying the other morning. "A good and spacious land." God promised that to the Israelites, and He promises it to us. (Keep in mind it took the Israelites a hard 40 years to get there.)

Last year was a very difficult year for our family. My husband and I hoped this year would be better, and it is. Yet, our lives are not simply made up of segments of time: a good year, a bad year. They are made of moments (the joy of our daughter's wedding, the love we share with our goddaughter) and made up of events, rites of passage, our friends and family. We live our lives - if we are faithful - in this good and spacious land.

Even in a land that is good, spacious, and flowing with milk and honey, there are bitter herbs to be tasted, chewed, gulped down. Like the Israelites, we have to struggle to figure out where God is leading us, why He has chosen the route He has for us. We often don't see the good and spacious land because we are so caught up in "bitter herbs" that dot the landscape.

We also have an interior life that God desires to be a good and spacious land. Our sense of God who resides in us, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, should we be in a state of grace. Our connection with God through prayer and meditation. The grace of the sacraments. The realization of blessings in every moment of every day.

"A good and spacious land." God desires this home for us eternally as well.

A good and spacious land. How good is our God!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Mother's Day ... And why I don't always celebrate

Unless you're living in Outer Mongolia, you've been inundated with Mother's Day ads. Apparently, we moms are dying to have buckets of perfume, a shopping spree, expensive handbags and a multitude of other "things" that will prove a child's love.

Of course, we moms know that none of that really matters. Yes, gifts are nice, but it's more the acknowledgement, the love, the thoughtfulness of the day that matter to us.

And yet, I don't always celebrate.

I remember all those years when my heart was broken with infertility, and all the moms were asked to stand in church for a special blessing. I pray for all those women who suffer this pain.

It's hard to celebrate when your child is in the hospital, or in jail. I've been there a LOT. It's just a broken and hopeless feeling - one of those things a mom cannot fix. I pray for all those moms who will face this feeling on Sunday.

This will be the first Mother's Day without my mom. I can hardly bear to look at bouquets of flowers (Mom always said fresh flowers were better than a psychologist). I can't believe I won't talk to her on Sunday. I pray for all of us who are missing our moms this Sunday.

Since my kids have a birth mother, I can only imagine how Mother's Day feels for her. Despite the choices she made that led to her children being placed for adoption, she is a woman who gave them life. She loved them enough for that. I pray for all the moms who've made a choice for adoption, those who've had the choice made for them.

Sometimes, it's hard to look at the choices our kids have made. We want better for them. We want more for them. We can see where they are going astray. We talk, we pray, we weep. Motherhood is not for the faint of heart; it's tough to watch your kids do stupid stuff, dumb stuff, sinful stuff ... and end up broken because of it. I pray for those moms - and I'm in this boat - that stand on the sidelines of their kids' lives and hold them close to a mother's broken heart.

Like every celebration, Mother's Day is bittersweet. We moms will hold our kids close this weekend, and we will be joyful. But many of us will think of the children lost, those who wander, those for whom we suffer. Yes: Happy Mother's Day, and let's be good to those who can't quite celebrate.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Taking pains to set things right

It's ok; I'm fine, really. A little ice will take care of that.
Well, that title is a bit of an idiom for my life.

I found out this week that I have lupus. I was kinda-sorta surprised. I thought it was rheumatoid arthritis (and it still may be, as I found out that some doctors treat "rhupus"). My dad had lupus, so it wasn't too big a surprise.

Dad had the kind that affects only the skin, however. I have the "bad" kind (because I'm bad to the bone!): the kind that affects joints/organs. Lupus is an autoimmune disease and basically what happens is that the antibodies that fight off infections and diseases get confused (maybe it's old age on my part) and start attacking things you need, like your knees and your stomach.

While it's always good to have a diagnosis, no one wants to hear that they have a chronic and painful illness. Yet, God is good, and we know that our suffering here on Earth can be joined with Christ's suffering on the Cross and that all things work together for the good. (That's my inner poster child speaking. On the whole, I'd rather be able to walk without groaning.)

Then, there was this: a gentleman-journalist called me this week. He was doing a story re' my former employer, and ran across an email written by the former city attorney for Grand Rapids, MI to a private citizen while the attorney was still in office. The email, which was supposed to be about a tax issue, was instead about my daughter. Faithful readers will remember that my daughter was the victim of human trafficking a few years ago. We filed a lawsuit against the city for not pursuing the case.

The city attorney had this to say, in part:

“The young woman did not run away from home to become a crack and heroin whore because of anything by the City of Grand Rapids or the GRPD (police). We did not raise her and did not influence her life choices in this regard. The hypocrisy of the Acton Institute and its employees is simply amazing. Beware that you are dealing with hypocrites, sir.”

I do not have many tools at my disposal, but I've got this blog. If you are dismayed that a city official could a) release this type of information to a private citizen and b) be so blatantly offensive, please do me a favor. Write to the local Grand Rapids' media and ask them to investigate. This attorney is now in private practice, but clearly the city of Grand Rapids should know that the woman they were paying to be the voice of the victim has a dim view of victims.

Fox 17
WoodTV
WZZM
MLive-Grand Rapids

Please include the link to the story referencing the email: http://www.michigancapitolconfidential.com/22382

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Driving Me Crazy

When I took a new job at the beginning of the year, my commute got a bit longer. (It's still not bad at all, especially when you compare it to places like Chicago or Boston.)

I actually enjoy the commute time. I listen to music, sing, pray and I annoy no one.

This morning, I had Dark-haired daughter with me. She has an appointment later, so I dropped her off at her cousin's house for the day and I'll pick her up later.

She is not quiet. Not contemplative. Not serene.

I told her a couple of times, "I really just need quiet." I woke up in a great deal of pain. I just wanted to focus on the drive and the music. "Please, just be quiet."

She agreed. Until...

"Just one question. How many babies can fit in a uterus?"

"Can you be 50 or 40 and have a baby?"

"When you have the baby, what happens to the water that's around the baby?"

My morning commute went from "me time" to a review of the female anatomy, the birth process, and the aftermath of birth. Having never been pregnant, I tried to be as accurate as possible.

Dark-haired daughter is often like a very young child. She asks question after question after question. She's curious. She likes to know how things and people work. Once she's met you, you are fair game for her curiosity. She is never intentionally rude, but sometimes she needs a gentle (or not so gentle) reminder that there is a personal line you shouldn't cross.

Yes, she drives me crazy. But I find her curiosity refreshing and sweet. She is a great companion for an adventure, because she loves new things and new people.

Yes, she drives me crazy. She is the best co-pilot, anytime, anywhere. I'll take the crazy.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Mercy, Mercy, Mercy

artist Stephen B. Whatley
Dear Husband and I had the opportunity to make a one-day retreat yesterday. The priest, Fr. O., was delightful and succinct.

Fr. O. spent the afternoon talking to us about mercy. Did you know "mercy" (in one form or another) is used 400 times in Scripture? Seems as if God is trying to tell us something.

I have to say that I've been struggling with mercy and forgiveness. There are wounds from my former job that still cause me pain. When I think of them, I try to remember to pray words of mercy over the situation and people involved. But it still hurts.

Soon, I am going to have to sit across a table from some of the people who are responsible for the abduction and assault on Dark-haired Daughter. I'd like to say that I am preparing myself for mercy, but that would be a lie. I feel like I'm preparing myself for battle.

Mercy, for us mere mortals, is a work in progress - always. Thankfully, for God, it is not. God is always ready to forgive, embrace, caress, love. We have to fight for that readiness, that ability to see the person and not the sin and hurt. God IS mercy, and we are mere sinners.

Fr. O. gave me a lot to ponder yesterday, and for that I am thankful. Today, I'm going to pray mercy over those situations in my life that remain painful, tender, sore, stinging.

Mercy. 400 times in the Bible. We can't use it enough.

Monday, April 11, 2016

A Terrible Beauty


Dear Husband and I are home from 10 days in Ireland. It was amazing. We saw the most beautiful land, managed not to hit any sheep, and ate a lot of great food (and drink!)

We had the opportunity to attend Mass twice. The first time was rather sad. It was a small village church, and the Sunday morning Mass. While it was well-attended by people of all ages, it was perfunctory at best. Thirty minutes start to finish, no music. The responses were said so fast we couldn't keep up. It was as if everyone was there to put in there time, not to worship. How very sad for a place where we Catholics fought so hard for our Faith.

Our next experience was the Sunday Vigil Mass at St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral in Dublin. The setting could not have been more beautiful. The cantor was spectacular, and a treasure of a pipe organ provided beautiful accompaniment. The priest gave a solid homily, and while the congregation tended to the elderly, it was worshipful and much more inspiring.

The Pro-Cathedral also played a role in the Easter Uprising of 1916. As Dublin burned and the streets were filled with battle, the priests held open the doors of the church as a place of refuge and for care of the wounded and dying. It was feared that the church would burn, but it did not, and the priests were able to feed the hungry, shelter those who'd lost their homes and tend to those fighting - regardless of which side they were on.

Cherish your church - both your parish and the Universal Church. When you travel, don't hesitate to attend Mass. Wherever you find yourself, you are at home in the Catholic Church. Give your children the gift of history and culture and prayer wherever you find yourselves. It is always good to be in the familiar, but it is a treasure to pray with strangers and sojourners, wherever we may be.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Lessons from the lunchroom

I wandered into the lunchroom at work today, grabbed my frozen mac & cheese and headed for the microwave.

Two women (whom I don't know except by sight; they work in another department) were talking. They were both complaining about their adult daughters. Apparently, one family was thinking that the daughter and her toddler son were going to move back in.

"She's just miserable; she's made a mess of her life."

"My daughter would be so much happier if she lost some weight. I keep telling her that." [Ouch.]

"She just doesn't understand how to take care of her son."

Ooph.

Yeah, I've complained about my kids. I've been mad at my kids. But I don't talk smack about my kids to co-workers.

I was thinking, as I waited for my lunch to get hot, that I almost lost a daughter four years ago. Really - she was abducted and gone for 48 hours.

I was thinking about how beautiful my oldest daughter looked at her wedding this past summer. So young. (And yes, we fought about everything - but it was a lovely day!)

I thought about my sons - the struggles they have, the heartache they've caused.

I wouldn't change it. I wouldn't change them.

The lunchroom made me sad today: two moms (and yes, I'm sure they love their kids) who were so caught up in the negative. I hope I remember the next time I open my mouth.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Easter Miracles

"He is Risen" - artists Frances and Robert Hook
We spend Easter Sunday with our beloved Franciscan Sisters. We enjoy a beautiful Mass together, and share a brunch afterwards (and you should all be jealous you weren't there: the food, oh my!!)

During brunch, we have a tradition of sharing our Easter Miracles: miracles, big and small, they happened to us during the past year. Sometimes it's as simple as a child with a disability who has now learned to read, and other times, it's a sister hitting the 5-year mark of being cancer-free (the 5-year mark is considered cured.)

One of our friends had a terrible accident with a table saw, and is struggling to get healthy, and work with a hand that won't ever be the same. However, their family stilled shared a miracle of all the help and prayers they've received - their family life didn't skip a beat; there was always someone there to jump in and do what needed to be done.

I started thinking about the miracles in our family this past year. It wasn't a good year for us, but miracles abounded. Dear Husband - despite a horrendous outcome from an "outpatient" procedure - lived, didn't lose his arm, and is overall very healthy now. Our daughter was married to a young man we love. I was able to spend the last three weeks of her life with my mother.

My Dark-Haired daughter continues to be the biggest miracle of all. She has been the victim of such horrible, evil crimes, and she chooses to be a survivor. She chooses joy. She chooses life. She chooses love. EVERY SINGLE DAY.

I still struggle with forgiveness and anger, but I'm working on it. I know there can be a miracle in my heart, and I expect nothing less.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Annunciation, Mom, And Faith

The Annunciation - artist Maurice Denis
Friday would be my mother's 91st birthday. She's been gone almost 4 months now, and I still have to catch myself calling her on the way home from work at least once a week.

I want to tell her about my new job and how much I like it. I want to tell her about planning a trip to Ireland (which she and my dad made possible by their Depression-style savings and generosity.) I want to tell her about the kids, and the house, and Tiger baseball and Jeopardy and well, everything.

Her birthday falls on Good Friday this year, which feels quite right to me. Part of the grieving process. Usually, on March 25, we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation, but the feast is moved to Easter Monday this year.

I always thought it was wonderful that Mom's birthday fell on this feast, this celebration of one woman saying "yes" to the will of God and thus changing humanity forever. While the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, I imagine all the angels in Heaven leaning forward, holding their breath (as it were) in anticipation of Mary's answer.

I have several of my mom's prayer books and missals. There are prayer cards in them from grade school retreats: a girlish hand writing "To Elizabeth, from Lorraine, in memory of our grade 7 retreat." I pray for both Mom and Lorraine now, hoping they are catching up in Heaven.

One of the prayer books is a Mother's Prayer Book. It's pre-Vatican II, so the language seems quite formal and a bit stilted, but I know my mother prayed many of those prayers fervently. Now, so do I.

My mother's greatest possession was her faith, a faith she fiercely loved. She set a very high bar for her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren in that regard - a legacy.

This year, my hope and prayer is that her birthday will be celebrated with her Heavenly Mother, rejoicing together in the epic story of passion, death and resurrection. Happy Birthday, Mumma.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Being honest about mental health

Artist Toby Allen
I was in the beauty shop last night (where women really go for therapy!) and had an interesting experience.

First, my hair dresser has been doing my  hair for a long time. We know each other pretty darn well. She runs her beauty shop with such a huge heart for Christ - she really thinks of it as her ministry and not just a place where people go to get their hair cut.

A young lady (early 20s) came in, a friend of my hair dresser's. She started talking about her experience recently of being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and what a scary time she'd had after a particularly bad panic attack.

I spoke up and said, "I know exactly what that's like. I had to check myself into [insert local mental health hospital here] a few years ago."

We had a great conversation. She said that she wished people talked about it more; she would have sought help sooner if she'd felt more comfortable talking about it.

If  you read my blog at all, you know I'm a HUGE proponent of better mental health care, but also that we TALK about mental health. People with mental illness often suffer far too long and needlessly - mostly due to shame, ignorance and embarrassment.

We need more voices in the fight for mental health care in this country. We need to help those who suffer by letting them know they are not alone, and that there are many of us who walk in those shoes.

I hate to think of any young person suffering silently, hurting for far too long, just because they don't know that there are so many of us who understand and that help IS available.

St. Dymphna, pray for us!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Trying to make sense of injustice

I am flawed. I have a big mouth. If you ask me what I think, I will tell you. I do not mince words.

Given these traits, I am not always easy to work or live with. I know this. Yet, I consider myself a good employee, a good sister. I give 110%, especially when I am working on ideas that stimulate me, that I'm passionate about. However, I try my best to work just as hard on the mundane things as well.

I left a job last year. I did not leave under good circumstances. It was made clear to me that I was no longer considered a useful employee (I realized this when I was told the best task they had for me going forward was folding programs for upcoming events.) I have, thanks be to God, found a new job, where I am valued, treated respectfully and professionally, and I am quite happy here.

I just found out that three men who I hold in high esteem were also "forced out" from the same organization that I left. As I understand it, they were treated, at the very least, poorly, and at most, in an evil manner. It makes me very angry, as this organization purports to hold itself to a very high standard.

This is unjust. Injustice is a cruel thing, because it generally denies the dignity of a person. It treats that person as a thing, a tool, an object to be used and/or discarded. It is bullying, all grown up.

Is there anyone who has ever been treated more unjustly than Christ? God-made-Man, sentenced to death for no reason. He had no guilt - never had done even the smallest wrong to anyone.

In the face of injustice, especially when it involves people I know, I want to scream and fight and blow the whistle. But in this season of Lent, I believe I shall instead ponder Christ on the Cross: "Forgive them. They know not what they do."

Monday, March 7, 2016

Can a mom just ... quit?

Well, at least there's still hope for me as Mother of the Year
I was ready to quit last week.

Quit being a mom.

With only one kid at home now, you'd think things would be easier. But no. I had one kid who was playing a stupid passive-aggressive game of "Let's tell mom things I never told her before and then when she gets upset, tell her she's being crazy." I had another kiddo (the one who is still at home) who needed a re-run lesson on "Please tell us where you are and who you are with, just as a point of courtesy." And for the finale, another installment of "Remember, you're not talking to the kid; you're talking to the addiction."

I was done. Pounding my head against the wall seemed to be more productive. And less painful.

My sister said I couldn't quit, but she did give me a bit of time off. Not much, though.

My kids are no longer kids, but they are not adults either. They are not all ready to take responsibility, to recognize their own methods of self-destruction, or keep a plant alive. That's ok - except when it's not. And Dear Husband and I are still expected to pick up the pieces (or shards of glass).

We had a "Come To Jesus" chat with one child: no more money. None. If you need shoes, we will buy  you shoes. If you need food, we will buy  you food. But no one here is under any illusion on what you'll do with cash, so you're not getting anymore.

I had to tell another kid: Hey, newsflash: Mom is human. Quit treating her like your own emotional punching bag.

For now, I'm trying a new tactic. (I don't know how long I'll be able to hold out, as I'm Irish.) I'm keeping my mouth shut (other than the occasional "Oh, uh-huh" or "Yes, I see...) and I'm just praying. And praying. And praying.

One of the treasures my mom left me is an old prayer book for mothers. She marked a few - apparently she wanted to quit a few times as well. And those prayers are coming in handy. Other times I just look up at Jesus' precious face on the crucifix and say, "This problem is yours now."

I still might quit. But not today. At least not today.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Mercy, or how to be like God the Father

Dear Hubby and I spent Friday night with our beloved Franciscan Sisters, who are hosting monthly discussions on the Year of Mercy.

The speaker this past Friday was a philosophy professor who is a student of St. John Paul II. He reminded us that one of St. JP II's encyclical's was DIVES IN MISERICORDIA, or God, who is rich in mercy.

I had read this encyclical once upon a time, but I think it will be my study for this Lent. JP II's writing can be tough going - he is a philosopher, and usually packs about 16 significant thoughts in a sentence or two. However, given that this is the Year of Mercy, what better study could there be?

We read in the Constitution Gaudium et spes: "Christ the new Adam...fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his lofty calling," and does it "in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love."6 The words that I have quoted are clear testimony to the fact that man cannot be manifested in the full dignity of his nature without reference - not only on the level of concepts but also in an integrally existential way - to God. Man and man's lofty calling are revealed in Christ through the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love.

For this reason it is now fitting to reflect on this mystery. It is called for by the varied experiences of the Church and of contemporary man. It is also demanded by the pleas of many human hearts, their sufferings and hopes, their anxieties and expectations. While it is true that every individual human being is, as I said in my encyclical Redemptor hominis, the way for the Church, at the same time the Gospel and the whole of Tradition constantly show us that we must travel this day with every individual just as Christ traced it out by revealing in Himself the Father and His love.7 In Jesus Christ, every path to man, as it has been assigned once and for all to the Church in the changing context of the times, is simultaneously an approach to the Father and His love.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Grief: The Ache In My Heart

Pere' Lachaise Cemetery
Grief is weird thing. It likes to sneak up on you for no particular reason. It wears out its welcome quickly, leaving you empty. Sometimes, it just follows you around for days, stuck to you like a piece of lint you don't even know is on the back of your pants.

Yesterday, I was just stabbed with the grief of missing my dad. No reason. It wasn't an anniversary of any kind. I just ... was grieved.

My dad has been gone for years. A lot of things have happened in that time. Sometimes I just wish he could sit in the back of the room one time when I am speaking. I'd like to see his face there, in the audience.

He was my go-to when trying to figure out finances or insurance or cars. He just knew stuff - what tool did what, how to tear a kitchen sink apart to fix a clog, how much life insurance you needed. Stuff I don't know.

When I was little, Dad would occasionally have a Pepsi. (This was long before the days when everyone bought soda by the truck loads. We kids got Tang. Clearly, our parents were preparing us for a life of Catholic penance.)

When Dad had a Pepsi, I would pester that he save me some. I would climb up on his lap - usually he was watching golf. He'd point out the finer points of the game to me, and then - FINALLY! - give me that can of soda, with a mouthful or two left.

Nothing special.

What I wouldn't give to have that not special moment back for just a few minutes.

Don't ever let anyone tell you to "get over it" or "you shouldn't be so sad." Your grief is your grief. There is no timetable, no end zone, no chart. There is however, balm.


There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin sick soul.
Some times I feel discouraged,
And think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit
Revives my soul again.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Lent ... Again

Sigh. There is nothing more dreary than February in Michigan. While this winter has not seen much snow, we got pounded last night with icy slush, rain, thunder and lightening. Clumps of dirty snow pile up near driveways and ditches, reminding us that it is still winter, despite the fact that the grass is visible. Michigan in February can drive the hardiest soul to hibernate with a stack of books and steaming tea.

To top it off, we begin Lent in a week! Lent, that penitential season when we studiously examine our consciences, earnestly pray and study the our Faith, and seek to shore up our souls by making daily sacrifices.

February + Lent = grimness.

Or does it? Must Lent be grim? It shouldn't be. Just because it is a somber time in the Church calendar, it should not be sad or depressing or (I daresay!) ugly. No, Lent must have an element of joy to it.

Remember, dear readers, that happiness and joy are not the same. Happiness depends upon circumstances, and is fleeting ("I'm happy work is going well" or "I'm happy that we're having macaroni & cheese for dinner instead of tuna melts!") Joy is from God. It says, "All is well with my soul," regardless of what life throws at us. Joy is not fleeting; it is a state of the soul that must be nurtured, but a mature soul is always joyful in the Lord.

And so it must be in Lent. We bow our heads in prayer, we fast from treats (whether that is our favorite coffee brew, a television show we enjoy, or a habit that does us no good), we give alms. We rejoice that God is so good that He gave us His Son, and that the Son allows us to journey into the desert with him for 40 days. We are joyful that we have the entire Church as companions on this journey. Joy fills us, with the Eucharist, our food for this journey.

While winter may drag us down, Lent is here: Rejoice!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Honesty, Pain, Redemption and Teens

Youngest son is still a teen (for another 11 months), but is out of the house. He's also huge - 6' 7".

He's also in a lot of pain, emotionally. For years, he made horrendous choices, and those choices had consequences not just for him but for people he loved.

He is home for a couple of days, to take care of some of those horrendous choices. Last night,  he sat and talked with me for hours, pouring out his heart. It's probably the most honest conversation we've had ... maybe ever.

This huge kid is hurting so badly. The bad choices and their consequences play like a movie reel in his head, he told. How can he turn them off? How can he make up for the things he's done? When will he feel forgiven?

Confession, he said, helps - sort of. He still feels a burden for what he's done.

I told him that our feelings are far too often unreliable. If I acted on my feelings, I would have walked out on my family years ago - it was just too  hard. I felt like I couldn't handle it. But, we act on what is right, making wise choices by God's grace, not by our feelings.

I talked to him about saints who made truly terrible choices - the Apostles and St. Paul. Yet they are men we look to as powerful examples of faith.

In my office, where we were talking, I have a crucifix. I kept pointing it out to my son, reassuring him the Christ had already taken on his sins and that he was forgiven - so long as he was truly sorry and confessed those sins. He might still have a heavy heart, but the reality (not his feelings) is that Christ loved him - and all of us - so much that He was willing to die a horrid death, a most painful death, a death He did not deserve. The reality is that death saves us.

My son is still so young, and these are such massive burdens and issues for a young man to struggle with. I told him that I covered him (and his siblings) in prayer every day. My prayerful desire is that this honest conversation is just the beginning of a new path for him - one where he can discover a deeper faith, redemption and hope.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Open Mouth, Insert Foot

I'm sassy. I have a big mouth. I say mean things that I thought would sound witty. Very often, the filter between my brain and my mouth gets shut off.

When I was growing up, my mom would come home from parent teacher conferences, and I'd be waiting for the report. I was a good student, so I was never really worried about grades. My mom would sigh and say, "They all said the same thing. You're a good student, and you have a big mouth." Yeah...

I like to think that I'm honest. I also know that "honest" sometimes comes across as "brutal." I don't intend to be mean, or put people on the defensive, but it happens. You'd think that by this point in my life, I'd have this figured out, but ... no.

Proverbs 15:4: "A soothing tongue is the tree of life." One must assume that a sharp tongue kills.

When I decided last year that it was time to look for a new job, I had to take a good, long and  honest look at myself. I knew I had to bear some of the responsibility for why my then-job had become unbearable. I said stuff I shouldn't. I was pushy.

Now, I find myself in much the same situation with a family member.

I'm a big believer in "having the last word." I have to win the argument, cut to the quick, be witty and win. Of course, this means no one wins - everyone walks away feeling hurt.

I'm 51 years old. Why do I still do this? Why can't I keep my lips sealed, my mouth shut? Why, as St. Paul says, do I keep doing things I know I shouldn't and failing to do the things I should??

Because I'm a sinner. I can't do it on my own.

Thankfully, there is Confession. And I need to go.

And I need to apologize.

And I need to keep my mouth shut.

I'll try. That's all I can do.