The Words That Guide Us

Emulating Julian of Norwich?
Emu­lat­ing Julian of Nor­wich?

Words can inspire and move. Words can teach and relay wis­dom. Words can also sow con­fu­sion and dis­cord. In par­tic­u­lar, the words of a preach­er in a homi­ly are sup­posed to be cho­sen with care -and be helped along, God will­ing — by the Spir­it. But, I’ve got to won­der at times. I’ve heard many, many won­der­ful things from the pul­pit. I’ve also heard some ridicu­lous pro­nounce­ments, spo­ken as near-dog­ma, some unthink­ing, hurt­ful gen­er­al­iza­tions, and some rep­e­ti­tious per­son­al themes, pre­sent­ed as the truth. Because I want to vent a bit, this post will be about the neg­a­tive stuff.

We, the faith­ful, are right­ly chas­tised for say­ing things that are insen­si­tive and hurt­ful to oth­ers . Yet our priests may do the same thing, espe­cial­ly from the pul­pit. Many times, though, the priests pos­sess that ele­ment of author­i­ty and holi­ness that may make us feel reluc­tant to reject, ques­tion or crit­i­cize their words.

Even some­one like Father Michael had his “bad days”. Yes, Father M was most­ly excel­lent as a preach­er, but some­times he just blew it. When this hap­pened, it was just a turn of phrase here and there-but to me, a few real­ly stood out: One time he began his homi­ly describ­ing the return of some­one who’d been away from the faith for a while. He talked about the man’s pro­fes­sion­al back­ground and then declared “Oh, he was mar­ried, but the mar­riage was over. It had been over for a long time.” I was sur­prised by the flip­pan­cy of a Catholic priest using the words “the mar­riage was over” . I know that this is how our soci­ety would describe it, but I felt sad­dened and dis­ap­point­ed that a priest would refer to a mar­riage with prob­lems this way. I instinc­tive­ly felt empa­thy for the many, many couples(some sure­ly there in church) who strug­gle through the bad times, to keep their mar­riages togeth­er. I thought these words were so thought­less; they dis­tract­ed me from hear­ing the rest of the homi­ly.

Anoth­er time Father Michael was speak­ing about how he per­son­al­ly had the most trou­ble keep­ing his vow of obe­di­ence. In the course of explain­ing this he said “Sure, we all strug­gle with celiba­cy.”  Ok — we know celiba­cy is choos­ing to be unmar­ried and chaste. I think Father meant chasti­ty, but what­ev­er, once again he was flip about this-which set the crude tone for many loud and inap­pro­pri­ate con­ver­sa­tions he con­duct­ed in the vestibule after Mass that day.

Then there was the time in the gospel where Jesus told of  get­ting the ox or don­key out of the pit on the Sab­bath. Father Michael gave a few more exam­ples show­ing com­mon sense or kind­ness in con­flict with ‘the rules’. He con­clud­ed his homi­ly with a big grin say­ing “And so you see, my dear broth­ers and sis­ters, love ALWAYS trumps the law.” I looked up at him grin­ning there and just shook my head. We lat­er had a dis­cus­sion about this in our meet­ing. I told him I felt his gen­er­al­iza­tion sound­ed nice, but was very mis­lead­ing.  I gave him my own exam­ples of how peo­ple, espe­cial­ly young peo­ple, could be influ­enced by a state­ment like that. Father M went on and and on about how  ‘we know Jesus was a man of the law’. And I said “Yes, of course , but you nev­er said that !!!”  He was very upset, but he final­ly got the mes­sage. But those hear­ing the homi­ly?  We’ll nev­er know.

Anoth­er priest in our parish seems to have a pen­chant for using the words “anger, bit­ter­ness and resent­ment” in hom­i­lies. He often talks in his hom­i­lies about our hearts being full of those three emo­tions. It is a recur­ring theme that gets tired. Of course he always encour­ages us to rid our­selves of these atti­tudes. As a per­son who some­times feels all three, I’d wel­come a lit­tle instruc­tion on com­bat­ing them and a lit­tle com­pas­sion for what caused them in the first place.Scolding doesn’t do it for me. It’s just not that sim­ple to say “Be gone !”  I think I am ripe for inspired instruc­tion.

The same priest seems to equate an out­go­ing, chat­ty, ‘peo­ple per­son’  with the ide­al Chris­t­ian. He talks in hom­i­lies about how we should all be of ser­vice, and seems to feel that social­iz­ing in any way pos­si­ble is the only sure way to the King­dom. He doesn’t seem to under­stand that there are oth­er, less ‘in your face’ ways to prac­tice one’s faith.You know-like prayer-which he hard­ly ever men­tions! If I had been alive in Christ’s time on earth and per­ceived Him as an over-the-top extro­vert, I would NOT have fol­lowed Him.  Not everyone’s a par­ty ani­mal. That sure­ly can’t be ‘the Way’.

And anoth­er priest tends to re-use the same hom­i­lies for some of the big­ger feasts and solem­ni­ties. You would think he’d at least change the jokes. Those make the repeat hom­i­lies more rec­og­niz­able! I remem­ber the jokes. He also has a ten­den­cy to refer to the Prodi­gal Son sto­ry a lot. He talks about the old­er son ‘cre­at­ing his own hell’ by delib­er­ate­ly sep­a­rat­ing him­self from his father and brother.Good one to fall back on, I guess.

Well, that’s enough com­plain­ing, though I may do it again some­time as the Spir­it moves me! FYI- the pos­i­tives in preach­ing real­ly do out­weigh the neg­a­tives-most of the time.

 

Spring’s Subtle Memento

IMG_0045It’s the first of May and a sun­ny day here in the Chica­go area. Spring is slow­ly com­ing around. New life and all that.…always a great reminder of ever­last­ing life. I was hop­ing to be inspired to write hope­ful, encour­ag­ing words today. Maybe that will come lat­er.

I was look­ing back through old emails and came across some cor­re­spon­dence between my sis­ter and me. It’s from Novem­ber, 2013. I hadn’t heard from Father Michael, was get­ting wor­ried and final­ly decid­ed to call him. This was the point when he was receiv­ing mag­ne­sium infu­sions all the time. It’s sad to read about and remem­ber those days. Here is the email I found :

Me:

Father Michael answered!! He was just leav­ing for the clin­ic. He said he has gone every day this week. He has not need­ed the infu­sion each day, yet has to wait 3 hours until the test comes back. I asked him if he gets to lie down while wait­ing. He said he did yes­ter­day in the wait­ing room.

He has been pray­ing to that Fr. Maz­zuchel­li , said he asked him for a break last night. “And he gave it to me”, he said. He was able to get some sleep. He said all he did was throw up yes­ter­day. Last night was real­ly bad. He says he just gets real­ly dehy­drat­ed and weak.

His voice sound­ed crack­ly today again. He said he has been sleep­ing on the bath­room floor and Fr. Louie told him  “that’s okay, sleep in the tub if you want”.

I said to him “Father Michael, you have been fight­ing so hard, you do what­ev­er you want. I’ll be pray­ing”. And I said “I know that this is so hard for you and that you might real­ly be full of doubts and that is so dif­fi­cult”. So he repeat­ed “Yes, I have been fight­ing so hard, so very hard”. And “Yes, I am full of doubts”. He kind of sound­ed like a lit­tle boy, eas­i­ly influ­enced.

Then he told me “I promise we will talk” and said Louie was wait­ing for him and then again he repeat­ed that we’d talk.

I’m glad I called him even though it was dis­rup­tive.

Last evening I had such a bad feel­ing about things, then calmed down. I swear I am attuned to him some­how.

My sis­ter:

You have some sort of bond. He sounds so sick.

Me:

He does — and he sounds drugged and grog­gy, but was still chuck­ling a few times. It is so touch­ing. Around 3, I sent a text say­ing I hoped that he didn’t need the infu­sion. Noth­ing back yet, but I feel com­pli­ment­ed that he even picked up the phone to talk this morn­ing.

So it was noth­ing out of the ordi­nary for those times. I was wit­ness to an excep­tion­al person’s suf­fer­ing. Father Michael had a very accept­ing atti­tude toward his suffering.During a par­tic­u­lar­ly dif­fi­cult time he wrote me:

I have been quite sick all week. I feel a bit weary from all the vom­it­ing and nau­sea. Hope­ful­ly, tomor­row they will be able to arrange bet­ter nau­sea med­i­cine. But I always real­ize there are so many oth­ers at the clin­ic who are much worse off than I am and their jour­ney is pre­car­i­ous at best.”

What an exam­ple! Unfor­get­table.

My life is sim­pler these days, though there have been oth­er tri­als this past year. In ret­ro­spect I real­ize I was so priv­i­leged to even accom­pa­ny Father Michael how­ev­er dis­tant­ly on his jour­ney. I’ll always be grate­ful.

As I have men­tioned before, toward the end of Father’s life, there was no news or updates or com­mu­ni­ca­tion.  It was so painful to be kept in the dark, after shar­ing so much. If it helped him to be away from us at the end (and we’ll nev­er real­ly know), I am glad. But Father wrote me once “You know, I nev­er want to be estranged from any­one.” So it is hard to believe that it was his choice to dis­tance him­self.

We are free now- all who suf­fered with Father Michael -and of course Father Michael him­self. Beau­ti­ful days like today remind me of the days before Father M got so ill. Those were the days when he’d speak before begin­ning Mass, just beam­ing, and say  “What a glo­ri­ous, glo­ri­ous day! Isn’t God good?”

Dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ences in life’s spec­trum-per­haps that’s why I need­ed to go back and reread about the sad­ness and suf­fer­ing. Grand, grand lessons.….… how well Father Michael taught them, all of them.