87 YEARS IN THE CONVENT…SHE DIED AT 101.

 

My dear aunt, Sr. Angeline, whom I called “Aunt Angie”, died in March.  I became close to this woman only after my parents died 10 years ago.  She called one day and I was in tears as I spoke to her.  From that point on, she adopted me and my children as if we were her own. When I was a young person, living in Southern California, my aunts, all 4 of them in the same order, came out to vacation. Trapped in a car for weeks with my parents and at least two nuns (they always traveled with a companion),  was no picnic for a child but that was my “vacation” almost every summer.

They were an odd lot.  Sr. Emma: an excellent religious, but as warm as a bottle brush and flexible as titanium.  It was wise to say little and keep a low profile.

Sr. Gilda was a pistol.  She was 6 feet tall and very intelligent.  She was secretary to the Apostolic Delegate in Washington DC for a time, and translated a well known book from Italian to English.  She could be warm at times, but I generally kept a wide berth from her as well.

Then there was Sr. Victoria: a gifted musician but a bit of a prima donna.  She tended to play favorites among my siblings when she stayed with us and it was very clear that I was not one of them.  She visited more often than the other aunts and my mother doted on her.  We tended to be unpaid servants and accepted that role as both inevitable and unavoidable.

And then there was Sr. Angie.  Completely unlike the others, she was warm and kind.

She told me that when I was about 10 years old, as she was leaving to go back to the convent,  I offered her my radio as a gift. Though we were never spoiled with material things, I know that must have been the ultimate sacrifice born of gratitude for the kind and warm person that she was.

I never saw her after I left home because this teaching order was on the East Coast and I was anywhere but, for most of my life.

My mother often spoke of her when I was child, referring to her as the “sensitive one” and the one who “suffered the most.”  Presumably, as with my other aunts, they called my mom to talk about their problems and concerns.

I always pictured her as ‘fragile.”  As I came to know her late in life, she was indeed the “sensitive” one….and fragility sourced from the tenderest of hearts.

She sought to help others in every way that she could, but was seldom thanked or recognized for her kindness.  We spoke often on the phone, and three times over those ten years, I took either train or plane to the East coast to spend additional time with her.

We planned a party for her 100th birthday. By that time, she had had several strokes,  She was in a wheelchair, and almost blind, but her mind was as sharp as a tack until the very end.   I knew from the little that she said that she suffered greatly but believed implicitly in the value of suffering.

She ruminated over the state of the world, the lack of respect for the Eucharist and the faith, the seeming deterioration of the human spirit.  I believe she shared things with me that she might not have said to the other nuns in the sister’s nursing home facility.  She tried always to make converts of the nurses and helpers that cared for her and gave away countless rosaries, even the one I made for her.  She wanted so much to die and go to heaven, and her biggest complaint was “….why am I still here?”  I prayed for her relief from this world, but I admit that sometimes I prayed with ambivalence, because I didn’t want to face my own world without her.

She left strict instructions for her death.  A simple Mass.  No eulogy.  No fuss.

ON March 23, 2017 she slept silently, painlessly into God’s hands.

Despite that, and unable to attend the funeral, it seemed poetic justice that one so kind, so humble, so giving should not be without recognition of the totality of herself she gave away. 

I’ve always said: “send flowers when people are alive, not dead.”

I defied my own rule and her intentions when I ordered a funeral spray the size of Rhode Island with the banner reading “Beloved Aunt.”  She would have “tsked, tsked” something awful if she saw it and I believe that she did.

I know she is still with me.  I feel her presence but I miss talking to her….sharing the faith with her.  My world is much less without her. She was my “God with a face.”

IMG_2156

Blessings,

G.N.

She says it better than I can

Here is a recent post that explains what troubles me better than I can explain it myself. 

Sr. Joan Chittister    |  Apr. 6, 2017     From Where I Stand    

It’s time to think through a very bizarre situation: Here we are in the one of the most modern, practiced, experienced democracies in the world — meaning that nothing could be more normal. But we’re also here with a new president who is so out of sync with a political and professional world that is rational, sophisticated, cautious and careful that few can tell where the rational ends and the bizarre begins anymore.

At the same time, we rest in the notion that checks and balances — representatives and senators — insulate us from any kind of monarchial takeover. After all, the very fact that presidents can’t really do much without the Congress, we’re inclined to assume, insulates us from any really egregious errors. What can possibly go wrong in a system that divides power and then checks the extremes of one branch with the prudence of another one?

We’re all in this together, aren’t we? Right. And that may be exactly the problem.

Preposterous proposals of legislation are beginning to be treated as normal, to be considered doable, to be thought desirable, to be accepted as moral. For instance, we were just faced with the American Health Care Act that would eliminate almost 24 million people from any kind of health care at all. We were told to accept health care insurance with premiums that would rise as people got older, just when most serious health care challenges set in. We were on track to find ourselves with health care coverage that was written to eliminate basic health care requirements: maternity care and mental health care among other basic benefits. What can possibly be done about plans such as these?

Obviously, there is a story here that must be told before it’s too late. Too late for what? Easy. Too late to understand a wisdom story collected from the monastics of the third century deserts of Egypt and the Middle East. It was almost surely meant to describe their own social situation, I’m sure, but it certainly describes ours now, as well. And warns us. And gives us strength.

One day, in counseling a younger monk, Abba Anthony told this parable.

The time is coming when people will be insane, and when they see someone who is not insane, they will attack that person saying: “You are insane because you are not like us.”

The cautionary tale is a timely one. It reminds us, as the Rev. Jesse Jackson once pointed out, that it is very easy to go along to get along.

As a result, while the system roils in an attempt to determine whose fault it is that this cannibalistic health care bill did not get enough support to pass the House of Representatives, I’m afraid we are ignoring the really basic cultural and spiritual question: How is it that a bill so morally decadent to begin with could ever have been brought to the floor of the U.S. Congress?

Or to put it another way: How is it that this bill was only short of passage by a mere 33 votes of this country’s majority party? How is it that there were only 33 “no” votes between our care for American children and the health children need; a mere 33 votes between protection of our elderly and the loss of home nursing they can afford; only 33 votes between the security of U.S. taxpayers and basic health care for adults and families? What kind of Congress is this? What kind of democracy is this?

Being like the people we want to have like us is a social phenomenon of major proportions. Grounded in fear or greed, it can cause whole populations to shift social behaviors like schools of fish in swirling waters.

Social psychologists call it “herd behavior” or “the mob mentality” and have been studying facets of it since the 19th century. No one knows better than economists the dangers of it, for instance, as the stock market shifts with the wind and some people gain millions on it while others lose their life savings for the same reason. It seems equally clear now that politicians, too, are especially prone to the disease. At least now. At least here. At least in this Republican Congress.

What is it that can damp the humanity out of a government so quickly, so thoroughly? Financial support for the next election? Identification with the alpha male? Blood thirst for power? Fear of political vindictiveness? Or even all of the above?

In order to be part of the in-crowd, in order to get ahead, in order to be accepted, we are very careful not to violate the standard brand theories or social positions of the time. Instead we name “difference” madness and make mad attempts to stamp out anything that challenges it.

But the desert monastics, the most “Catholic” of Catholics in the early church would have none of it. Abba Anthony brooks no doubt: We have a spiritual obligation to come to our own opinions. We are not to buy thought cheaply. We are not to attach ourselves to someone else’s decisions like pilot fish and simply go with the crowd. We are meant to be thinking Christians.

The problem is that in this day and age forming an independent opinion and having the audacity to claim it may fast be becoming the gold standard of fortitude.

But we have seen in our own era what happened when the slow erosion of principle in Europe hardened into World War. With the fear of terrorism and the rise of racism as an excuse, so-called Christian countries simply abandoned all patina of Christianity in favor of racial superiority and national defense. They wanted to be “great again,” too. And they failed — as we will — because no country, no group, can become great by being cruel, by taking from vulnerable sectors of society to enrich the privileged of it. And yet, now we are watching the illogicality of that paradox played out again right before our eyes.

No doubt about it: Abba Anthony left to all of us the obligation to speak up on issues that threaten to despoil our basic human decency. He goads us to speak out for the innocent and oppressed. He challenges us to speak on, however long it takes and whatever the pressures ranged against us, to restore to humanity the humanity it deserves. He requires us to speak up when we hear around us the strategies of those who would balance the national budget by denying the hungry food stamps and children good education and the unemployed and underpaid decent lives and the strangers in the land a way to become community.

From where I stand, the basic question has to be: How could such a bill be considered human in a Congress that prides itself of being “of the people, for the people and by the people?” Why was a body such as this even willing to entertain such a thing? Where is the moral criteria that outweighs being liked or punished by a vindictive president who keeps lists of those who do not vote with him? And, lastly, why would any president support such a bill?

In a political world that is normalizing the irrational more and more every day, our obligation is not to be like those who would secure themselves by making others insecure. Our obligation is to be like the One who said, “Give what you have to the poor and then come follow me” — no matter who calls you insane.

[Joan Chittister is a Benedictine sister of Erie, Pa.]

Thank you so much Sr. Joan.  I needed that!

A blessed Holy Week and Easter to all of you!

G.N.

 

A letter to the editor and Brother Bruno’s excellent thoughts on Lent

 

 

Here is a letter I wrote to the editor of the National Catholic Reporter after receiving my second issue from them.  It is one issue that weighs heavily on my mind.

(ADDENDUM: THIS LETTER WAS NEVER PUBLISHED BY THE NCR)

“I have been flummoxed by the change I have observed in church liturgy over the last 5 years.  This trend was finally named and addressed in the article “North Carolina ‘Church in Exile’ battles “restorationists.” I was both relieved to have it identified and sourced; and panicked that it is widespread. (please see ORIGINAL article from NCR 2-24-17—-3-9-17)

I started a Website to address the disrespect in our Catholic churches in dress, attitude and behavior after a noticeable shift by adults while attending Mass, and in children, who imitate what they see. I observed this in most of the parishes I have visited when I traveled across the country.  I addressed it forthrightly with pastors, only to find lackluster responses in understanding or lack of initiative in response.  I believe that this decline in behavior and the ”Restorationist” movement may be linked. 

 I often watch EWTN liturgies and they are liberal in use of incense, extol the virtues of Gregorian chant, use Latin throughout Mass and push the idea with long explanations that these ancient songs and rites are really useful and important.

 However well- intentioned these priests may be, they are creating more distance between priest and congregation, form and understanding, to a population just beginning to recover from priest scandals.  It only widens the distance, enhances division and leave the problem, at best, untouched. Does the Gospel passage about “widening their phylacteries” give no hint of what the Lord expects? 

Priests do need to stand up to the plate and provide true leadership.  We need homilies not about theology and abstract concepts but real issues which strengthen us to challenge the cultural dissonance we experience day to day.  We need to be drawn to more and better prayer in the language we understand.  My parish provides a Spanish language Mass, an Asian Mass and then an English Mass which is said mostly in Latin.  (Please help me make sense or logic out of that.) 

 We need to be challenged if we are rude and disrespectful in our behavior in church, when using cell phones or texting, dressing inappropriately, or allowing our children to disrupt prayer…… not by a notice in the church bulletin, but face- to- face. We need boundaries, empathy, enthusiasm and fervor from our priests…..for it will be contagious.”

(I want to add this thought.  I studied Latin in school.  It was required. I grew up with the Latin Mass.   I understand it a lot better than most Catholics.  But ….I do not THINK in this language and consequently, the words of the Mass slide by my brain like a mailman on an ice slick.  They are utterances spoken by a priest that are detached from my understanding and therefore from the action of the Mass.  Pope Francis understands this.  Why do his priests not listen to him?)

And Now:  Brother Bruno, OFM, who also goes by Daniel Heisey wrote this on Lent: I really recommend his blog.

At nearly every Christian monastery and convent is a bulletin board on which monks and nuns post prayer requests.  Those requests come to the religious community every day, often through friends or relatives of the religious or in the mail from complete strangers.  The latter are often anonymous, and the envelopes are addressed simply to the monastery in general.

Some monastic bulletin boards might be arranged in parallel columns according to what spiritual writers classify as the four kinds of prayer:  adoration, petition, praise, thanksgiving.  All four types of prayer occur during liturgies, but they can occur also during private prayer.

Adoration occurs best in silence, especially before the Blessed Sacrament, and praise occurs often incognito, whenever in the Psalms or elsewhere one finds the Latin word Alleluia, or its Hebrew original, Hallelujah.  Both words mean “praise the Lord,” and prayers of praise can become verbal, if not verbose.  In contrast, adoration, like losing oneself while gazing into the eyes of one’s beloved, tends to be inarticulate.

Prayers of petition can be subdivided into prayers of contrition, asking to be forgiven, and prayers of intercession, often directed to a particular saint.  Best known, of course, is the Lord’s Prayer, containing petitions for our forgiveness, and for a spirit of forgiveness, and for our daily needs.

With petitions and intercessions, a danger arises when someone confuses prayer with magic.  At one time or another, we have all slipped into that dangerous confusion.  Sometimes one hears a kind of spiritual prescription, what sounds like a pious statement, but is really the opposite:  Say this prayer three times to, for example, Saint Paphnutius, because he never fails to give you what you want.  Say the magic word, get a special prize.

This form of piety reduces not only the saints but also prayers of petition and intercession to the level of a child asking Santa Claus for a new toy.  On the surface, such prayers seem like folk piety, admirable in itself, provided it conveys the truth.  However well-intended, when such piety veers into the land of lucky charms, it leads away from the truth.

As a result, this approach to prayer leads to disillusionment.  Despite thrice-daily repetition of the same never-fail prayer to Saint Paphnutius, nothing has happened.  It then becomes easy to conclude that prayer doesn’t work.  It is the same disappointment and frustration resulting from a certain kind of failed commercial transaction:  When you keep putting in coins, and nothing comes out of the vending machine, eventually you decide to give up.

Either you then reconcile yourself to not having the goody from the vending machine, or you turn to a different vending machine that seems to work.  Likewise, a Christian can become fatalistic, resigned to life being broken, or can look far and wide for just the right spiritual fix.  Alternatively, the disillusioned Christian decides that vending machines, like slot machines, are for gullible, and probably obsessive, fools who don’t realize that they are wasting their time and money.  Disillusionment leads to deciding that there is no Saint Paphnutius, no Santa Claus, and having outgrown such childish beliefs, the newly enlightened Christian finally decides that there is no God.

After many years in a monastic community, one pattern emerges from all these prayer requests:  All are prayers of petition.  They include prayers for a healthy pregnancy, for a successful operation, for healing a damaged relationship, for finding a job, for the repose of someone’s soul.  All are worthy concerns, and the monks are ready to pray for them.

However, never has there been a request for the monks to offer up prayers of thanksgiving.  No one has ever asked for prayers to be offered in thanks for a healthy baby, for a successful operation, for a healed relationship, for a new job, for the good example of the faithful departed.  Now and then the monks receive a note of thanks for having offered prayers of petition, but thanking the people doing the praying is not the same as asking them to give thanks in prayer.

As the Church prepares for Lent, here is an austere, some might say severe, penance to consider:  Outside the Our Father, where we have been instructed to ask also for what we need right now, give up asking in prayer for anything except that God’s will be done.  Even in the Lord’s Prayer, petitioning for God’s will to be done runs parallel to asking for God’s reign to govern events here on Earth, just as it does in Heaven.  Asking for God to be in control of everything in His creation is far removed from His creatures asking Him to give them the things and situations that they, that we, want.

After all, as has been often said, prayer does not change God, it changes us.  Praying for our daily bread does not provide God with new information; it makes us focus on what is important for us in this present moment.  Praying for God’s will to be done does not supply Him with a new idea for how to regard all things, visible and invisible.  If it happens that the atheists are right when they claim “Prayer is just talking to yourself,” what would be the harm in having spent a life daily desiring that the cosmos not be ordered around one’s own will?

So, for Lent, give up an approach to prayer that treats it like a machine that responds to the right code; give up a spirituality that confuses prayer with rubbing a magic lamp and asking a genie to grant three wishes.  Instead, after forty days of wandering in the Lenten desert and saying Thy will be done, forget about making up for lost time by unfurling a pent up list of petitions rooted in one’s own will being done.  Rather, go into the dawning joy of Easter quietly praying “Thank you.”

 

 

More on Mercy

 

 

Reading the gospels throughout Lent as Jesus challenged the Pharisees

led me to some insight and clarity this year.

I  thought of the Pharisees as ignorant and rigid. How could they fail to

understand when faced with the real person of Jesus?  How could they not see

and understand what was right in front of their noses?

Yet, human kind’s capacity for rationalization and denial seems to know no limits.

Men construct laws as structures for their own safety and security.  

Surely, that must be good!

But Jesus responds …. “laws are for men, not men for the law!”

What does that mean in actuality? 

While these examples are not the most profound, they are, like much

of our day-to-day thinking, ordinary and mundane.

I receive a quarterly magazine from a very devoted group of Catholics on the East

Coast.  In recent correspondence from them, the author spoke of the Latin Mass four

different times in a page and a half article with such fervor that I felt bullied from afar,

as if I am deficient because I find that Latin does not help me pray better, despite my

familiarity with it at childhood Masses and because it was an educational

requirement rom youth.

Recently I have noticed that women feel more obliged to wear chapel caps. 

EWTN and my parish have incorporated more and more Latin into the Mass. 

Will I become more reverent because I pray in Latin or cover my head? 

Latin was once the “law” of the church as were chapel caps for women.

 I recall quietly tiptoeing into church after school as a very young girl to make a

visit to the Lord. I had nothing with me to cover my head. An adult saw me and

reproved me soundly because of my bare head.

I suspect that Jesus was very glad to see me with or without my cap!

We seek concrete solutions, often heralding back to another time and generation,

believing that structure or laws will make the difference, instead of responding to the

problem in present time with people who have changed because times have

changed. 

“I find no pleasure in burnt offerings.” 

Nothing intrinsically wrong with chapel caps, nor Latin, nor “burnt offerings”

but they are just structures.  In and of themselves, they do not provide

a pathway to Jesus. 

Jesus made this clear.  Love and mercy are what He wants of us; what He

requires of us;  to see through to the heart and the needs of others and relieve

 burdens, not to impose new (or former) ones. 

/////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

 I watched a segment on “60 minutes” last Sunday that discussed prisons in

Germany. 

The German prison model says it is about rehabilitation, not punishment and it really

is.   U.S. prison officials and our representatives in government and the media tell us

that prisons are a place of  “rehabilitation,” but in fact our country locks

up more people for longer periods of time in more inhumane and violent conditions

than few other places in the civilized world. 

Our prisons are institutions where the non- violent become violent because they fear

for their lives and safety.

Our prisons are the places mentally ill are warehoused because we are unwilling

to pay for humane housing to care for them.

Our prisons are places where countless souls, children of God, live without kindness,

without mercy, without hope.  

Prisons in Germany are based on MERCY.  Prisoners have relative freedom.

They have libraries, training, counseling to assist them.  The German

model challenges them to make good choices and demonstrate

responsibility;  to change their lives with the goal of release to society.  

Guards have no guns and treat prisoners with courtesy and respect, teaching conflict

resolution. Even murderers can earn their way out.  Recidivism is low. Germans

spend far less than the U.S. for the  humane treatment they provide versus the

barbarism we finance.

We talk rehabilitation but we exact punishment. 

U.S. prisoners have little chance to reform themselves nor become productive

citizens, if and when they are released.  

We are merciless and hypocritical in our approach.

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The day after Divine Mercy Sunday, I lost a very dear friend. 

As Elinor Dashwood said to Edward Farrar in Jane Austen’s book:  “Sense and Sensibility”:

“He (was) the kindest and best of men.” 

I have not stopped weeping since this priest entered Hospice. 

He was truly a holy man in the Spirit of St. Therese of Lisieux. 

He did little things well. 

He offered his entire self in every Mass that he said, as if it was either his first or his last.

I smiled when he processed out to the altar.  There was an urgency in his step, as if he

was about to direct the Mormon Tabernacle Choir or the Philadelphia Philharmonic. 

He loved music and his deep baritone voice boomed through the church when He

sang.  He was the only priest I’ve known that sang liturgical music at the proper

pace…..he never let a song drag funereally when he sang acapella. 

He opened himself to others and exuded gifts of humor, kindliness, generosity

and tolerance.  His laugh was infectious.

He was in every sense of the word, a gentleman. 

 He loved the land, having been part of a large farming family, and never failed to

mention the earth, the crops and the needs of farmers when he prayed the petitions.

Having been raised in the city, my awareness of the land has been forever altered.

If you told him you needed help with something… anything… he was on it.  He took it

personally, and rolled out all the stops.

He always had something kindly to say about you and to you. 

He never forgot your name, your children’s names, nor your children’s children. 

He never judged. 

He gave of himself with a whole heart. He held nothing back.

I have lost a dear friend and I am unprepared to accept a world that does not have

him in it. 

 He earned his eternal reward.  I wish only that I could see him one more time and tell

him what a difference he made in my life and in the lives of many others.

A poem, memorized in childhood, by Edwin Markham comes to mind:

“He drew a circle to shut me out-

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.

But love and I had the wit to win. 

We drew a circle that took him in!”

He never failed to draw a circle and take you in.

It is fitting that he should enter the arms of his maker in this YEAR of MERCY.

He was the personification of the words of Jesus:

 “The heart of the law…. is mercy.”

Monsignor Gerald J. Stessman

Born: March 13, 1933

Ordained: May 31 1959

Died: April 4, 2016

Msr Stessman

 

 

 

 

 

an OPENED book

A blessed 2016 to all of you! 

I was preparing a Catholic book by Peter Eymard to ship to a customer

and out of the book fell a copy of a “Meditation” by Blessed John Henry Newman.

Newman’s writings have always inspired me but I have never seen this particular

prayer.  It is for me an exquisite beginning to The Year of Mercy, 2016.

I share it with you. 

God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another.  I have my mission- I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next.

I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught.  I shall do good.  I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place while not intending it– if I do but keep His Commandments.

Whatever, wherever I am , I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity my serve Him.  If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him.

He does nothing in vain. He know what he is about.  He may take away my friends, He may throw me among strangers, He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, He may hide my future from me–still He knows what He is about.

Therefore I will trust Him.”

In a world that confounds me with its vice, and greed, and egregious injustices,

it is precisely what I needed this beginning 2016.

And all I had to do was open a book!

Hang in there dear ones!

 

G.N.

 

 

 

The pope, the priest and the pubescent

 

Recently, I have had several notable “incidents”  for reflection.

The first was the pope’s visit.  I was elated and touched by the pope’s impressive efforts to reach out to the people in America.  I had only intended to watch the highlights, but like popcorn, couldn’t pass it up.  I initially tuned into EWTN, but was resoundingly put- off by the negativity and cynicism expressed by commentators.  The papal visit gave them a platform to purvey political views and prejudices.  A true irony, given the tenor of the pope’s visit in which he highlighted acceptance and tolerance.

On the other hand, for the first time that I can remember  a completely different tone was set by the secular press, MSNBC.  I was as elated by the respect and interest they showed  to our religion as I was  by the papal visit itself.  It was more than a breath of fresh air. It was a veritable tank of pure oxygen!  A serendipitous surprise. 

 I later wrote to the Board of EWTN regarding specific examples and received a personal acknowledgement by the President of the Board.  I am relieved that he took an interest and hope he extends that interest into a review of the footage. 

 I have experienced two other incidences  on my mission  to change our decidedly inappropriate behavior in church. 

 About a month ago, I sat in the 7th row of our church with just a few people sitting in between myself and the first row.  After Mass started, an older well-dressed Asian man walked in with 4 school age children, about 8 to 13 years in age, in tow and crammed into the small pew. 

 During Mass, the tallest and presumably eldest one punched and elbowed his brothers and they tried to defend themselves as best they could. At no time, did the older gentleman correct him or his brothers or friends.   I did not know if others in church found this disturbing or distracting. 

 I toyed with the idea of correcting him on the way back from receiving communion but it seemed such a rude and forward thing to do when his grandfather sat right there. My heart pounded with anxiety up until the time that I received  the Eucharist and only then did I decide that I would go for it.  I leaned over the front pew and grabbed the boys arm firmly and said “ not only are you distracting everyone behind you but you are being very unkind to your siblings, or friends.”  I gave the grandfather a respectful bow as we locked eyes.  The boy shrunk back into the seat and appeared embarrassed if not chastened. 

 I  had barely knelt down in my own pew,  when a young man of about 30 leaned over to me and said: “thank you very much for doing that!” 

 As I left church after Mass, another young man of the same age, came up to me and also thanked me and revealed that he had been very bothered by the boy’s behavior. 

 I did not realize that others were as concerned as I was, but I pondered the rest of that week about how we, as adults, have relinquished the powers of adulthood.  We cower in the face of challenges. ”Live and let live,” carried to an unhealthy extreme.

 The incident reminded me of my mother who had often said to me as I grew up: 

“You are just as culpable of wrongdoing as the person who is doing it, if you do nothing to stop it.” 

She was right.  As a child in a large suburban city, if I was doing anything wrong, even as inconsequential as bad manners, I was likely to get chewed out by a neighbor, a mailman, or any adult who had witnessed my misdemeanor!  I didn’t have to “know” them or they, me.  It was a given that adults had a right or obligation to expect and demand good behavior in children.

The second incident was one of those “foot in mouth” moments. On a visit to an eastern coastal town, where my sister lives, I attended Mass at a small parish, one of two in the town. The church has little of the beauty one expects in a church.  The ceiling is Styrofoam tiles.  The altar is simple and unadorned with only a few unimposing statues to break the monotony. I have attended the church several times over the years, and they have, hands down, the worst music I have ever heard in my life, and I have heard some pretty atrocious liturgical music. What this parish does have is a priest who knows how to give a homily and parishioners that are warm and congenial to one another. 

 As I entered the church, two men sitting along the back wall conversed loudly with one another.   The topics were mundane:  the weather, sports, etc. For some reason they crossed the aisle and sat down right next to me in the last row and continued their conversation.  That was the last straw!  I stood up, leaned over to the two of them,and said:  

I came here to pray and this is the noisiest church I have ever been in!” 

Both of them looked like deer in headlights, excused themselves and went to the vestibule in the back. 

 A short time later, as I read my meditations, a green chasuable swished past me and I looked up.  Yup.  It was one of the two men I had chastened and he is the pastor of the church.  “Lions, and Tiger and Bears…oh my.” 

When Mass was over, I beat it out of there like a fly in a tailwind.  The other noisy offender was opening the back doors; he grabbed my hand and apologized.   

I vowed to be more courageous than I have been in the past but the courage to be an adult also requires facing the consequences of my actions.  My mother also used to say:

You can do the right thing, or you can be liked.  You can’t do both.”

 In conclusion, I offer a link to a thought-provoking article sent to me recently by a friend. 

 http://www.churchpop.com/2015/06/16/dear-catholics-unsolicited-advice-from-an-evangelical-convert/

 Blessings and please shut up in church!  I might be sitting close by!

 G.N.

ADDENDUM: I sent a letter to the priest that I had corrected before mass in an attempt  to fill- in- the- blanks of my concerns.  Surprisingly I received a long letter in return from Fr. Ken.  He discussed his late -in- life vocation, his outlook on the church, and his concerns and hopes.  It was satisfying for me to stimulate some discussion.  I beg your prayers for this kind and caring pastor.   

 

 

 

Blessed Are the Merciful and other wishful thinking

It has been too long since I have written….  The act of pen to paper, or in this case, fingers to keyboard, seems to be the problem. I sure am getting a lot of visibility though.  Since I last wrote, some 5 months ago, 148 spams were in my mailbox!  Wow.  They tell me I’m quite the “blogger”  before they suggest that I buy designer sunglasses or expensive services for site.  I’m beyond flattery.

It is the second week of Lent, my most notoriously provocative liturgical season, and I have been out in the desert way more than 40 days! 

I have learned about another shocking aberration in our working world. There is a new class of postal workers that have been hired to “do the dirty work.”  They are a slave labor pool and have absolutely no rights.  They work 7 days a week and have no benefits.  You can thank Amazon for the seven days a week arrangement.  Before Amazon gave them a billion dollar contract to deliver on Sunday, they were still working these poor souls 6 days a week, including holidays as needed and often, 60 hours a week.  I guess the Amazon business model is contagious.  I suggest you go to the source and read the article “Amazon Is Killing Your Mailman: Why its Sunday Service Is a Labor Travesty” in Salon.com.

I did accomplish some writing lately.  I received a survey in our church bulletin.  It was in preparation for the “Ordinary Synod of Bishops” later this year.

The questions were as follows:

1) To what extent is current pastoral care oriented toward those families on the periphery?

2)  How can people be made to understand that Christian marriage corresponds to the original plan of God and thus one of fulfillment and not confinement.

3) How can an awareness of this missionary task of the family be fostered?

4) How can people be helped to understand that no one is beyond the mercy of God?

5) Is the Christian community in a position to undertake the care of all wounded families so that they can experience the Father’s mercy?

6) How can the Christian community give pastoral attention to families with persons with homosexual tendencies?

7) How can parents and the Christian family be made aware that the duty of transmitting the faith is an intrinsic aspect of being Christian?

God bless them, but committees and synods always seem to complicate the uncomplicated.  Pope Francis keeps telling us what we have to do and Christ told us before that.

LOVE….DON’T JUDGE.

Father Michael Casey, a Cistercian monk, addresses this quite well:

“We all have to grow out of our tribal image of God.  Too often when we assert that God is “our God” we are implicitly declaring that those who do not belong to our tribe are viewed by God with indifference or even hostility.  There is evidence of such an attitude in the Old Testament.  The New Testament, however, repeatedly states that God has no favorites (Gal2:6)

Gentiles and Jews are equally welcome.  Despite having heard this often, we cherish the belief that God is on the side of good people and against bad people, with the inevitable corollary that we try to prove ourselves good so that God will fight against our enemies.

There is a line in …the Gospel that overturns this assumption.  “God makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and cause rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”

God’s love for humanity is unconditional; ;his means it is non-preferential.  All alike bask in the sunshine of God’s acceptance and approval: God is ‘kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.’ (Luke 6:35)

God is not merely for us, but for all.  That is why we are commanded to love our enemies, no matter how vile they seem.  We may not reject those women God has accepted.  If we do not love those whom God loves as certainly as he loves us, then there is something wrong with us.  ‘It is never the will of your Father in heaven that one of these least ones be lost.’ (Matt 18:14) nor may it be ours, for “God wills all men and  women to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.’ (1Tim 2:4)”

 One only needs to experience one of the minorities that the Church does not favor…i.e. divorced, liberal, Gay, atheist, etc. to recognize that judging one another in light of Church rules is modus operandi.  An aversion to sin is a good thing but the problem is that we nurse an aversion to the sinner instead.  They become lepers and to be avoided.

The questions of the bishop speak to evangelizing.    Pope Francis is one of the few I have observed who understands and lives, not just preaches, mercy, inclusion, love.  It is why he makes some uncomfortable at times.

Only when we learn to think and behave inclusively, leaving judgment to God, as He asked us to, putting love before all else, will we be the Church, the people, we have been called to become.

The essential question in this survey is how to evangelize, especially those outside the fold. 

I propose that we must first change ourselves.

Pope Francis lives it but also shows us how to do this on a daily basis.

There can be no “other.”  I-Thou is at the heart of who we must be.

The church must focus less on sin, and more on loving the sinner.

In my response to this questionnaire, I encouraged “FRANCIS” groups.

Parishioners who come together,  first examine their own beliefs about “others” …then train to visit each person, who in the eyes of the Church, is ”other”:

the divorced,

single parents,

gays,

people living together outside marriage

handicapped

impoverished

as well as anyone in crisis

We say we care about those people, but in my experience THEY remain on the fringes of the parishes. We form a comfortable identify within our own comfort zones, where we stay…..comfortably….all the while professing the teachings of Jesus Christ and believing ourselves.

I worked a big garage sale in our parish twice a year for 15 years. In this parish, is a veteran who walks with a walker, is speech disable, and is married to a Phillipine woman, who also has halting English skills.  They have been working the garage sale for as long as I can remember and no one ever speaks to them.  We have lunch together, breaks together and they sit at the table unnoticed, no one engaging them in any way.

I began to think about this and realized  my own discomfort with them.  I forced myself to engage in a quick conversation with them, rather shamefacedly, since I was aware of what a jerk I had been.  They reciprocated.  The woman was very sweet and seemed very pleased to be acknowledged (duh). Each time it became easier.   I shudder  with shame to think that it took me 15 years to accomplish the obvious.

Why do we do this?   I can think of lots of reasons…..but none of them would be sufficient to my heavenly Father.

First.  we must recognize our own failings and then we can move on.  Lent is the perfect time to dwell on this and find ways to make it happen.

And remember … please shut up in church!

G.N. 

 

 

Going against the Grain

I have not written for 5 months because I have been preparing for the “ Christ Our Life” conference.  It has been held every other year for the last 8 years.  Each year, it has grown exponentially.  I have heard estimates that this year from 7000- 10000 souls attended.  I don’t know…. but I WAS astonished when I viewed the crowd which had easily doubled from the previous conference. 

 Most of the time during the day and half of the conference, I tend my little hobby in the hallway outside the stadium.  Morning Star Rosaries is my homespun “mom and pop” operation that morphed from rosary -making to selling old Catholic books, statues, medals etc.

 I don’t hear many of the speakers, but I am completely blessed and enveloped by the Spirit during the proceedings.  

On my main table, I sit and repair rosaries. It is surprising how many people carry broken rosaries in their purses or pockets because they are of deep sentimental value, and continue to pray on them. 

 I also add a “drop of blood” bead to their rosaries. The “drop of blood” bead is a tiny blood- red bead with a tiny brass cap which I assemble and attach to the top of the crucifix.  It signifies that “one drop of Christ’s blood is enough to cover the iniquities of the whole world.”  It is a visible reminder of His sacrifice as we pray.  Some might say it’s “corny.”  Corny or not, we Catholics love symbols and the beads disappear like hotcakes on a cold morning. 

 I place a basket of “freebies” on the table as well, chock full of holy cards, medals, rosaries. They disappear as fast I can replenish them. 

 I also display a shadow box of first class relics including St. Paul, St. Thomas, St. John,St. Martin de Porres, St. John Neumann, St. Maria Goretti, St. Lucy, St. Cecilia, St. Pope Pius X, and a splinter of the true cross….a veritable powerhouse.    People flock to this and love to touch their or medals rosaries to each one. 

 All of these things allow me to share with strangers and for them to share with me, the true bonus of setting up shop.  It is not money that I am paid for the countless hours of work assembling this, it is the shared faith of my brothers and sisters in Christ.  Thanks to my dear family, who gave me a ton of help,  I was freed to spend more time talking and sharing with others.

 I met an older man who told me he works nights in a rather quiet job and it allows him to make rosaries of all types as he sits. His face weary with fatigue, he said that he wants to make fancier rosaries but for now he is content to make them out of rope or twine or plastic beads and send them to the missions.  He shared quite matter of factly that his wife is dying of cancer, and “when she is gone, I am going to make a rosary using some of her diamonds.” 

 Two sweet, fresh- faced little nuns who didn’t look old enough to have finished high school shared that they are training to be missionaries and pulled relics attached to chains from under their habits to share them with me.  They are permitted to wear relics(they told me in a hush) because they are going to the  foreign missions.  Their precious faces were radiant as they shared.

Young people, in their teens and younger,  came back again and again to touch the relics, bringing more friends with them each time.  My own son was astonished at their youth and their fervor.

 What feeds me most is the astonished look on people’s faces when you tell them that an item or a service doesn’t cost anything.  Some fumble in their purses pulling at bills attempting to force them upon me. Some can’t stand their discomfort and retreat to find some little thing to buy, as if they have to repay me.  Most look amazed…. as if I have healed a withered hand!

 What kind of world do we live in that the smallest act of kindness, especially related to money or business,  we find “remarkable”? 

 How can we go to a “Christian” conference and expect to find any less??

We have separated business from religion in our heads as if they have gotten a divorce due to “incompatibility.” 

 It does get complicated. There are those who think that what I do is taking advantage in some way.  One man glared at me when I told him a practically- new New Testament was $3.00.  He does not understand when all is said and done that it take two years of scrounging, finding, cleaning, organizing and storing books; scrounging, finding, cleaning and restoring old statues, etc. etc., buying supplies, packing, moving, setting up, two grueling days of little food and barely a bathroom break,  then taking down, moving and reorganizing, storing etc. It requires a full basement and a storage rental.

 It is not an endeavor for the faint of heart NOR the mercenary. The cost of tables at the conference doubled this year. I figure I make 10 cents an hour.    

 I am not set up to take credit cards, so this year, I gave people who didn’t have cash or checks an envelope with my name and address and the amount they owed so that they could send me the amount when they return home.  

Only a few days later, I have received two of the three.  A sweet lady wrote in a faltering hand: “Thank you so much for trusting me.”

Some people might tell me “this is a crazy way to do business, Pollyanna!”

 NO DOUBT!

 Perhaps each of us might discern ways in which we can give ownership back to God:  to yield to faith instead of fear, letting go instead of squeezing tight.  Putting it in Christ’s hands instead of our own. 

The interrelationship between faith, hope and charity is what I have come to understand more deeply. Better late than never. 

I realize that every act of faith MUST feel like a leap into the dark, OTHERWISE IT IS NOT FAITH.  If it seems crazy to you or others tell you that it is, you are probably on the right track.  The culture of business in this country is generally antithetical to the culture of Christianity. 

That being said….. I am not going to do this anymore……too old….too tired. 

It’s been a great run. 

 Perhaps I’ll come back in two years and do nothing but add drop of blood beads, show my relics, and talk to kindly souls. 

The payment I receive for that is incalculable. 

And, dear ones, don’t forget to shut up in church!

Blessings,

G.N.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Serendipity and other resurrections

Little unexpected miracles illumine and affirm ones life.  Those “resurrections” that are sometimes prayed for, sometimes unsolicited, beyond ones expectation. 

 This Lent offered unexpected sufferings…..family surgeries nearly overlapping.  Fear.  anxiety.  The weight of unpredictability. Taxing my faith, my endurance. 

 Yet, God showered His blessings in serendipitous events, weaving pain into joy, opening up doors of hope and love.  Resurrection, indeed. 

 On Good Friday it has been my custom to spend the hours from 12pm to 3pm in church  with God.  It is the least I can do to honor the time He spent on the Cross. 

When I was a child, services were held during those hours.  I was expected to spend all three hours in church.  It seemed unendurable as a child and yet, its tedium morphed, over time, into understanding the significance of Our Lord’s bloody sacrifice.  Over time, the liturgies once held during those sacred hours disappeared and it is now common to have only the Stations of the Cross on that day. 

 I wrote about my experience in a blog last year. Volunteers entered the church and cleaned up the pews.  I was horrified.  This year,  I went to the church office and asked if those hours could be reserved for prayer.  The kindly secretary put a notice in the Palm Sunday bulletin that there should be no activity other than quiet prayer on Good Friday between 12 and 3. 

 Good Friday came, and instead of being alone in the church, a steady stream of souls came to pray, some for a few minutes and some for several hours.  In the decade that I have been praying in church on this day, I have not seen this happen.

 I believe the notice in the bulletin increased awareness of that very sacred time.

It was just a simple notice, not even an encouragement to pray or attend, noting only that this period is a sacred time.  Sometimes we just don’t think of things if they are outside our tradition, our experience. 

 Caryll Houselander is one of my favorite authors.  I bought her Stations of the Cross which is a marathonic 113 pages.

 Some years, I read it during the 3 hours on Good Friday.  This year I prayed Bishop Fulton Sheen’s Stations of the Cross, which is my all time favorite.  I then read just the Prayer from each of the Caryll Houselander’s stations.  It is a beautiful and inspiring combination. I never think that I will make it through the 3 hours, wimp that I am, but when the people begin to come to the church for the Stations of the Cross at 3pm, I am truly sorry that that  time is over. 

 Quite by chance, I found and read Caryll Houselander’s autobiography, “A Rocking Horse Catholic,” at a garage sale.  It is a tiny yet profound book.  I am tackling now “This War is the Passion,” published in 1941. 

 But back to her Stations of the Cross. 

 The prayer at the second station “Jesus Receives His Cross,” is worth sharing and particularly moving to me after a challenging Lent, in which I wanted nothing more than to abandon my cross. 

Lord,

Let me receive the cross gladly;

let me recognize Your cross in mine,

and that of the whole world in Yours.

 

Do not let me shut my eyes

to the magnitude of the world’s sorrow

or to the suffering of those nearest to me. 

Do not let me shrink from accepting my share

in that which is too big for me,

and do not let me fail in sympathy

for that which seem trivial.

 

Let me realize

that because You have made my suffering Yours

and given it the power of Your love,

it can reach everyone, everywhere -

those in my own home,

those who seem to be out of my reach -

it can reach them all

with Your healing and Your love.

 

Let me always remember

that those sufferings

known only to myself,

which seem to be without purpose

and without meaning,

are part of Your plan

to redeem the world.

 

Make me patient to bear the burdens

of those nearest at hand,

to welcome inconvenience for them,

frustration because of them. 

Let me accept their temperaments as they are,

nurse them in sickness,

share with them in poverty,

enter into their sorrows with them. 

 

Teach me to accept myself–my own temperament,

my temptations,

my limitations,

my failures,

the humiliation of being myself, as I am.

 

Allow me, Lord,

all my life long

to accept both small suffering

and great suffering,

certain that both,

through Your love are redeeming the world.

 

And in communion with all men,

and above all with You,

let me accept joyfully,

death and the fear of death-

my death and the deaths of those whom I love-

not with my will but with Yours,

knowing that you

have changed sorrow to joy

and that You have changed death to life.”

 

Lent is truly the trial run of life becoming LIFE.  I am grateful for the serendipitous holiness of this season, even as each year I move into it and through it reluctantly and irritably. 

 

And remember, do us all a favor and shut up in church!

Blessings of the Season,

G.N. 

 

 

  

Joan from Ark

“Be Perfect, specifically in love and kindness, excluding no one from your charity, but enlarging and expanding it for all both enemies and friends, and embrace all with it, both those from whom you expect nothing and those from whom you expect some return.” Father Cornelius a Lapide

 

Just recently another one of those light bulbs lit up my brain.  I’m always grateful when the dimness of my bulb takes a leap in wattage, generally illuminating the obvious.  

I have a background in psychology and mental health.  I know that humans are complicated. There are many factors, sometimes unseen and unknown, that affect behavior, emotions, reactions. 

 Despite my knowledge about behavior, I find it easy to rush to judgment about others. My mind runs, NO, gallops toward conclusions, logic, meaning; an easy explanation for what I  cannot define, nor understand.  Understanding is a good thing but it can lead me handily down false paths and offer false promises. 

 Some years ago I worked in a jail.

One late Winter morning, one of the jailors brought a young wisp of a woman down to my office, reporting:

Her roommates complained that she is acting weird.”

“Weird?” I said, sarcastically.

This is a jail….. not a polo party in the Hamptons.

The girl sat stiffly in the chair across from me, her sandy-colored hair frizzy and sticking out in all directions, a victim, no doubt, of poor quality jail shampoo and static electricity. 

Her eyes were vacuous and she stared straight head, without blinking. 

“What is your name, dear? I asked gently. 

“Joan, Joan from Ark.” she replied. 

“From Arkansas?” I queried. 

“No! No!  Joan from Ark!” she countered emphatically.

The sheriffs had picked her up, sans hat, sans coat, sans much- of- anything, walking down the center lane of Interstate- 235 in a drug- induced stupor. She was living with some pretty rough types. At first glance, I figured just another 20- something, most likely grown up hard and burning her bridges.  Something about her fragile wistfulness, however, gave me pause.  I began to search for family members (not easily because she did not know who she was or where she came from) to gather her history. 

 In fact, she had led a rather ordinary middle class existence. Good in school, no particular proclivity to trouble.  

On a hunch, also called the Holy Spirit,  I pestered a psychiatrist who was more inclined to diagnose “malingering” than prescribe anti psychotics.  I also beseeched a judge to delay her hearing until we could tell if the meds would work.

 A week later, she looked at me inquisitively,  and asked :

“Where am I?”

 “Where do you think you are?”

 She responded: “I don’t know.  I feel like I just woke up.”

 Joan from Ark  was really named Barbara. She  had been suffering from schizophrenia for at least 2 years, but never diagnosed.  She had wandered away from all she knew and wound up in the hands of those who drugged and exploited her.  The system was geared toward punishment and yet she was a victim.  With intervention in the courts, she wound up in a group home to recover, with the help of family, and get on with her life, rather than remain a faceless person, with no past, no present and no future.   

thJ2CVJ34EWhen I searched for pictures of St. Joan of Arc I found, ironically or otherwise, the spitting image of my “Joan from Ark.”

 Why do I find it so difficult to remember each day that we are all  ”Joan from Ark”:  sad, bewildered, oftentimes not in our “right” minds, and sometimes in our “wrong” minds.  And always, always, always needing kindness, succor and the healing medicine that LOVE is.

“The perfection of God consists in the most ample love of all people, both good and bad.  It consists in gentleness, patience, moderation and temperance of the appetites, and what follows therefrom:  the highest peace and tranquility of soul, so that no injury wrath, or revenge can affect it; so that one is imperturbable and without passions.”   St.Thomas Aquinas

Lent is upon us once again.  I’ve decided that this year I am going to do something different.  I am going to fast from anger instead of muffins.  I know it will be a challenge.

 Maybe next year, I will be brave enough to fast from judgments…

Lord give me the strength. 

 Well, dear ones, may we receive the graces we need this Lent to grow in the love of God and most especially, the love of all of our brothers and sisters. 

And don’t forget to shut up in church!

Blessings,

G.N.