Absence, Remembrance—Another Year

This is the three year anniver­sary of Father Michael’s death. I decid­ed to write a lit­tle today to keep him in mem­o­ry. I’ve been absent from the blog main­ly due to ill­ness. I have had surgery and chemo for can­cer. One of the side effects of the chemo, was sen­si­tiv­i­ty in my fin­gers. Neu­ropa­thy is one thing, but all the plat­inum in my sys­tem would cause elec­tri­cal zaps to my fingers.….not too pleas­ant for exten­sive key­board work. So I shied away from the blog .And, like Father Michael and most can­cer patients, I dealt with the fatigue. Most times I didn’t fight it as Father M did, I just rest­ed! I have a few oth­er med­ical issues going on now that real­ly debil­i­tate me at times. So there’s my excuse for being absent from the blog.

The biggest con­tri­bu­tion to Father Michael’s mem­o­ry will be Kyte Hall at St Vin­cent Fer­rer Church. The parish broke ground for this yes­ter­day. I was sor­ry to miss it, but I was sick. I was half-way dressed and real­ized that I could not attend. I had been look­ing for­ward to it, espe­cial­ly since Father Louie was going to offi­ci­ate. I’m hop­ing there will be a tape of the homi­ly to view, at least. But any­way, this parish build­ing will serve to bring Father Michael to mind, espe­cial­ly when in use. It will be par­tic­u­lar­ly mean­ing­ful to those of us who knew Father M, to those with very fond mem­o­ries. I look for­ward to its com­ple­tion. As the years go by and the mem­o­ries fade, the parish won’t have the same appre­ci­a­tion for this extra­or­di­nary, yet ordi­nary man. But that’s life. I’m glad I knew him.

Over­all, my work on this blog has been a good thing for me. It’s fun­ny because I began it after my writ­ing was edit­ed to the point of dis­tor­tion. So it grew out of some­thing tru­ly humil­i­at­ing. My old­est son, who is a writer by pro­fes­sion, sug­gest­ed that I just blog and “avoid all that”. A wise sug­ges­tion. It’s been per­son­al­ly reward­ing, though lack­ing affir­ma­tion. But I keep the fol­low­ing quote from St Fausti­na in mind :

I know well that the greater and more beau­ti­ful the work is, the more ter­ri­ble will be the storms that rage against it.”

A Fathom Unknown

shutterstock_380150137Today is the sec­ond anniver­sary of Father Michael’s death. And it is East­er Sun­day- a great day to reflect on the real­i­ty of ever­last­ing life and love.

This past week , I have revis­it­ed all the sad and poignant moments of the last few weeks of Father’s life. Fun­ny how those things nev­er get old.…and real­ly nev­er will. For some rea­son, I’ve recalled how very often in the last few months of his life, Father M would tell me he didn’t take some of his meds. At first, I assumed that he’d just for­got­ten. (He’d men­tioned a few times that he’d wak­ened at night in ter­ri­ble pain- and would real­ize he’d for­got­ten to apply his pain patch.) So I thought he was absent- mind­ed about it. So duti­ful­ly, I’d tell him to go over the phar­ma­cy instruc­tions and that maybe he could make up the dos­es on some pills.

But lat­er on, I noticed that he’d tell me that he didn’t take the pills and then kind of look at me in a chal­leng­ing way. I start­ed to respond with “Well, that is your choice Father” or “It’s your life,Father M”.I nev­er asked him for any expla­na­tion. I tried to respect his feel­ings and pri­va­cy. I think it was Father’s way of accept­ing his com­ing death and also to be tru­ly present to those who loved him.Very often when I vis­it­ed, he’d drift off to sleep in his chair. I ‘d think “At least he’s relaxed.… he must need the sleep”. But Father M would wake up and be so apolo­getic; he clear­ly felt he should be awake and alert. So I could see his rea­son­ing -some of the pills knocked him out.

There was one time, when he’d told me that he hadn’t tak­en the meds. I respond­ed in the usu­al way. Sur­pris­ing me, he got angry and said “But I want to live! I need the pills to live!” I think he want­ed a pep talk about com­plete heal­ing and hope–and I didn’t come through for him. It was hard to know then how to be the best friend that I could.

But Father Michael was sac­ri­fic­ing his com­fort and per­haps some of his remain­ing life-to “be with” me and so many oth­ers who came to spend time with him.… to have the plea­sure of his com­pa­ny.

I pestered Father Michael for a long while with many ques­tions I had about his life, his voca­tion, his faith. I received very few answers. Father would say, rather non­cha­lant­ly, “It is hard for me to talk about myself because I tru­ly am ‘oth­er-cen­tered’ “. Well, I didn’t com­plete­ly buy it because I observed many sides to Father Michael; he could be self­ish -was not per­fect. But this ‘no med­ica­tion’ thing was again one of the ‘lit­tle things’ Father did-a small way which proved  that he was more con­cerned about oth­ers than him­self.

At one point, again in those last few months of Father Michael’s life, I start­ed to notice a bit of dis­tanc­ing. He start­ed to speak and make obser­va­tions in a more hard­ened way. It was kind of chill­ing to see this behav­ior in such a kind, sen­si­tive and holy per­son. I remem­ber writ­ing to him about it. I felt that he was show­ing the cold­er influ­ence of his coun­selors and per­haps oth­er con­fi­dants. I told him out­right “Father M, who­ev­er you are lis­ten­ing to, they DO NOT LOVE  the way you do, they are not you. Please be your­self.”

Pri­or to those last months, though, Father Michael was the very best exam­ple of care, con­cern and love for others.The finest I’ve ever known. The man of the bot­tom­less heart.

Life’s for the liv­ing and death’s for the dead–and the depth of a heart is a fath­om unknown”.—————Buffy Sainte-Marie

Finding the True Vine

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This pic­ture of a beau­ti­ful bunch of grapes got me think­ing about the Gar­den­er and the True Vine. I am a gar­den­er myself, one who enjoys prun­ing. I always make those bib­li­cal con­nec­tions when I’m out work­ing on the shrubs and trees. So much thought goes into what needs to be done to this par­tic­u­lar shrub and yet with oth­ers, the work and thought is minor. It is a work of care and want­i­ng beloved flo­ra to grow and thrive. Find a way to make the plant do its best. Cut out those suck­ers! Some day I should plant a grape vine.

Here’s a sto­ry of Father Michael I’ve been remem­ber­ing late­ly. Father M had been hav­ing stom­ach prob­lems as usu­al. But then, he saw his doc­tor and received some new meds and had been delight­ed that they worked so well. I was so relieved ! Father kept telling me how great the pills were and that it had changed his health so much. At the same time, he received the new meds, the doc­tor had advised him to get a colonoscopy ASAP. I had talked to him by phone and urged him to make the appoint­ment as there was a sub­stan­tial wait time.Perhaps a month went by and I assumed all was well.

So one evening, I received an email from Father M. It read “Come see me in the sac­risty tomor­row after Mass. I have some­thing very impor­tant I want to talk about with you.” So nat­u­ral­ly I was intrigued. I had been hop­ing for some spir­i­tu­al direc­tion from Father and I won­dered if maybe this was what was so impor­tant.

The next day after Mass I went to see Father Michael. He was chat­ty and cheery . Many oth­ers, the sac­ristan and the lec­tor and vis­i­tors  were there in the sac­risty-talk­ing in anoth­er area. Father Michael got very qui­et and near­ly whis­pered. He stood there and kind of twirled his fin­ger on his stom­ach and said “I’ve been hav­ing some bleed­ing.”  I was so shocked. Of course, from all his stomach/bowel talk, I knew what kind of bleed­ing he meant. I said “Oh no, Father Michael !!!!  You told me the pills were work­ing, that you felt bet­ter.” He said, “Well at first I did, but then things went back to the usu­al and now I need to ask you to pray very hard for me.I have so much to do and Provin­cial meet­ings are com­ing up and now this is hap­pen­ing.” I said “Father Michael, I always pray for you and I will do more, I promise. But please tell me, what did your colonoscopy show ?”  He looked at me, took a deep breath, and said “You know, I nev­er made the appoint­ment.” I was just dumb­found­ed. I real­ly want­ed to yell at him. I had all these ques­tions I want­ed to ask, but then just thought ‘He must not trust his doc­tor’.  So I said “Father, I know the most won­der­ful doc­tor at Loy­ola. If I call him right now and ask him, he will take you as a patient. He will give you the very best care; I’ve known him since he was an intern.I promise you, you will be treat­ed by the very best, I’ll call him.”  But Father Michael was not buy­ing it. He want­ed things his way and that was to ask for heal­ing prayer.

This was about a month or so before Father Michael went to Albu­querque and col­lapsed. I was on pins and nee­dles wor­ry­ing about his damn bleed­ing that whole time. He didn’t make it any eas­i­er. It was like pulling teeth to try to talk to him or get an email response. But he got the prayers.

Evergreen

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We took down the Christ­mas tree today. My hus­band said “It’s time.”  And I knew he was right. So down it went, still smelling so fresh, just start­ing to lose its nee­dles. It’s always a bit­ter­sweet time for me. I miss the glow and scent of the tree imme­di­ate­ly, yet I’m hap­py to have the space back. It’s fun­ny because I don’t miss that space at all while the tree is up.

Christ­mas trees have always been a big deal in my fam­i­ly. My dad was the youngest of sev­en chil­dren and while a young man he was entrust­ed with choos­ing my grand­par­ents’ tree. This car­ried over till I, as a preschool­er, went along with him -tree­hunt­ing. I enjoyed stop­ping at all the lots- we’re city peo­ple nev­er went to a tree farm!

 I learned to antic­i­pate the hag­gling, the walk­ing away, and final­ly mak­ing the deal.  And then there was the moment when my dad would bring the cho­sen tree to Grandma’s and she would laugh and call him “you crazy kid”. This was because Dad always chose giant trees -much trim­ming need­ed and prun­ing required.  Dad was always more con­ser­v­a­tive when we went out to get the oth­er tree for our lit­tle apart­ment. But Grand­ma had a big­ger space and the tree need­ed to fill it.

So when I had my own fam­i­ly, I kind of trained my hus­band on how to play the Christ­mas tree game. He learned quick­ly for one who had nev­er had a dad–or a real tree in his life. My sons have got­ten pret­ty good at it too, seem­ing­ly by osmo­sis. And they like them big , too. So fun­ny that the Christ­mas tree “process” has become a tra­di­tion.

I have tons of orna­ments now. My dream is some­day to have (or rent) a place for Christ­mas where I can use all the orna­ments I have on a very, very tall tree. I’d like to have that sat­is­fac­tion just once.

Yes, this tree tra­di­tion is a con­vert­ed pagan cus­tom. But since I was lit­tle, I have known that the tree was a sym­bol of Christ and ever­last­ing life. I have always held it in rev­er­ence for that rea­son. And the tree is adorned in its nat­ur­al beau­ty and we try our best to enhance it. And we savor its spe­cial, fra­grant pres­ence in our homes  as long as we can. We make space in our homes .…and in our hearts.

The Beauty Continues.….

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It’s the last day of 2015-and I’ve been neglect­ing this blog, most­ly because I’ve been busy and tired- always good excus­es. But I don’t want to skip a post­ing in any month. I feel an oblig­a­tion toward the blog, a true com­mit­ment. I also need to con­tin­ue my  writ­ing about Father Michael.

This blog has giv­en me a sense of pow­er. It has been influ­en­tial on so many peo­ple-some express­ing so much in their silence.….Others are hap­pi­ly sup­port­ive and com­pli­men­ta­ry.  Some open­ly dis­ap­prov­ing. I appre­ci­ate them all. And I look for­ward to anoth­er year of cre­at­ing and shar­ing beau­ty on this blog.  No, it’s not yet time for me to shut up about Father Michael and just act grate­ful.

2016 , here I come, a lit­tle slow­er, a lit­tle weak­er, but ready to car­ry on. I promise.

Here is a link to a great arti­cle about grat­i­tude and grief from Tim Lawrence :

http://www.timjlawrence.com/blog/2014/12/15/gratitude-doesnt-erase-grief

Savoring My Advent …

winter_scene_30-1024x768Novem­ber is almost over. It’s been a very busy month for me-and my fam­i­ly. I’ve had some health issues that caught up with me –and just didn’t feel well for most of the month.

Novem­ber also rep­re­sent­ed a ‘recov­ery’ and adjust­ment peri­od for my fam­i­ly. My youngest son got mar­ried on Octo­ber 31st -and there was a lot of hoopla lead­ing up to that !!  The wed­ding took place in the bride’s Ortho­dox church. My pas­tor assured us that it is com­plete­ly ok for a Roman Catholic to get mar­ried in the Ortho­dox church as all their sacra­ments are valid . Our church respects this. But I have to say it was an adjust­ment to wit­ness it. I am so used to hear­ing vows spo­ken and par­tic­i­pat­ing in Eucharist at our Catholic wed­dings. The Ortho­dox  priest admin­is­ters the sacra­ment and the rite is very long. I did rec­og­nize some ele­ments that remind­ed me of Jew­ish wed­dings. All in all, it was quite beau­ti­ful, but a bit out of my com­fort zone!!

So often in this past month, espe­cial­ly while ill, I thought of Father Michael. Just lit­tle mem­o­ries here and there. I recalled how often Father Michael expressed his fear about his ill­ness. I looked back over his many texts that I have saved and found this:

The only hope is prayer. I have lots of fears as I face each new day of uncer­tain­ty. You are in my thoughts as well.”

I think see­ing Father Michael being that kind of human example-accepting,uncertain, fear­ful, yet still full of faith, still pray­ing- left a last­ing impres­sion on me. It inspired courage in me. While going through my sick­ness, I didn’t have to dig to be very strong. Think­ing of how Father Michael was gave me peace and I felt at one point that he was present,right beside me. God is so good.

I dealt with nurs­es, doc­tors, var­i­ous tech­ni­cians and have noth­ing but admi­ra­tion and grat­i­tude for them. One of the most touch­ing expe­ri­ences was meet­ing an R.N. who’d been in the mil­i­tary for the  four years pri­or to start­ing at his cur­rent hos­pi­tal. “I’ve worked in mil­i­tary hos­pi­tals all over the world”. He was so proud of his work and yet so hum­ble. He was so kind to me and very unas­sum­ing-as opposed to “pro­fes­sion­al”. Before I was to leave the hos­pi­tal, this nurse said good­bye to me and shak­ing my hand, said “It has been an hon­or tak­ing care of you”. I thanked him, but was oth­er­wise pret­ty speechless–and very moved.

Today I saw this quote and real­ized that young man embod­ied it:

Bring them the Gospel not by your words but by your exam­ple, not by pro­claim­ing it but by liv­ing it. Make the sal­va­tion of all peo­ple the one, sin­gle work of your life, until Jesus the Sav­ior, which is a name express­ing per­fect­ly [who Jesus is], like­wise express­es per­fect­ly what you are. But how can this be done? Be all things to all peo­ple with a sin­gle, clear desire in your heart: to give them Jesus.”
Blessed Charles de Fou­cauld (1858–1916)

Well, this is a very self-cen­tered post. I am grate­ful, though, that I had  Father Michael in my life to look back on and ulti­mate­ly help me in my jour­ney .

Lasting Faithfulness

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I think this syn­od is mak­ing me think too much about mar­riage and the fam­i­ly! But I’ve want­ed to write this stuff for a while and the syn­od has giv­en me a  con­text for my ram­bling thoughts about this sub­ject. It’s also been a good kick to get me restart­ed on the blog!

Father Michael once wrote me an email say­ing that he’d love to talk to me about mar­riage some­time. Well, we had talked about it in our appointments…several times. I’d been sur­prised by what he said and even more by what he didn’t say. I think, from his lack of response to many of my state­ments, that I sur­prised him with my being some­what con­ser­v­a­tive. At that point, he def­i­nite­ly want­ed to avoid any dis­agree­ments with me. One thing that stood out for me from those talks was Father M’s stat­ing “Well, you know they’re all liv­ing togeth­er”. Of course that was old news . But Father talked about how some of the engaged were grand­chil­dren of ‘long-time’ parish­ioners, or devout par­ents, and talked about not want­i­ng to their hurt the relative’s feel­ings, etc.In oth­er words Father treat­ed them with care  and cour­tesy, no mat­ter what their liv­ing arrange­ment. I asked “Do you say any­thing about cohab­it­ing to them? I know they are with you to do the ‘right thing’, but do you say any­thing ?”  Father Michael said ” Because they have already ‘shared inti­ma­cy’, I tell them that after they are mar­ried, God will now bless what they have.” I looked at him and said “That’s it?”  And he nod­ded.

I’m not stu­pid. I know that scold­ing is not the way to go and that these engaged peo­ple are aware of their actions. But I have to say, even now, that I was so dis­ap­point­ed in what Father M said.It real­ly kind of shut me up and our appoint­ment end­ed. I was dis­turbed by our talk and after­ward kept think­ing about it. A few days lat­er I sent Father an email. Here’s part of it:

Off and on I have been think­ing about our talk the oth­er day. Remem­ber­ing what you said about engaged cou­ples, almost all liv­ing togeth­er , com­ing to you to pre­pare for mar­riage made me kind of sad.I know no one wants to alien­ate them, since they are at last doing “what they should do”. I’m sure that nei­ther you, nor their par­ents, nor any­one involved with them wants to rock the boat by say­ing some­thing to make them feel uncom­fort­able or chas­tised in any way. But what struck me was how say­ing “God will now bless what you are already doing” or ” already have” (I’m sure I’m mis­quot­ing you crude­ly, sor­ry) though absolute­ly true, seems so want­i­ng.

I guess I think of the sit­u­a­tion as a par­ent would, hop­ing that some­how all I hoped I’d taught my child and all the tra­di­tions and beliefs I’d tried to con­vey in rear­ing them Catholic would still be sup­port­ed by the church. Almost like anoth­er type of seam­less gar­ment? Kind of like the trust you have in your spouse that he/she will project the same val­ues to your child that you your­self do. It just seems to me that there should be reminders of these things even if the par­tic­u­lar cou­ple doesn’t reflect the ide­al. Some­thing should be said. Of course it should nev­er be done in a nasty way and I don’t know how I would even attempt it. Eas­i­er said than done, for sure. But I feel like our tra­di­tion­al beliefs should still be held up as worth­while and as what is real­ly pleas­ing to God. And then, I think it seems in real­i­ty all we are offend­ed about is pre­mar­i­tal sex. But sex can be such a pro­found expe­ri­ence of God; it shouldn’t ever be min­i­mized or over­looked. Glad YOU  are the priest , Father Michael. I’d be freak­ing out.”

Father Michael’s email response was “You wouldn’t believe some of the things the engaged tell me”. I  didn’t answer him, but thought ‘Oh yes I would’. He nev­er elab­o­rat­ed or dis­cussed this fur­ther with me. I have an added under­stand­ing now since Father’s can­cer fight.I learned that he real­ly abhorred and feared crit­i­cism — and I’m sure he saw crit­i­cism in my email. So he ignored it. I do wish he would have been will­ing to dis­cuss it.

  Father Michael often men­tioned how he helped peo­ple with their annul­ments. He always had paper­work to do for them. Lat­er in the two years I knew him, he would men­tion going out to a cel­e­bra­to­ry din­ner with cou­ples who had been wait­ing for an annul­ment to mar­ry. It was very clear that he felt peo­ple should explore the annul­ment process -if they were divorced or sep­a­rat­ed. I think it was a great joy for him to deliv­er the news that the annul­ment had been grant­ed. I remem­ber that in the lat­er months of his ill­ness he always made the time to meet with these peo­ple. He admired their courage and their desire to make things right with the Church-and their love for each oth­er.

Father Michael  had dif­fi­cul­ty in see­ing the com­mit­ment of engaged cou­ples. He also said that many peo­ple real­ly just want­ed the church build­ing for their wed­ding, but not the Church, not the sacra­ment. He had a hard time offi­ci­at­ing at most mar­riages for this rea­son. He often spoke in won­der of the sac­ri­fice and evi­dent love shown by old­er cou­ples, par­tic­u­lar­ly if one part­ner was ill and the oth­er was a care­tak­er. He would always say he was awed by this. Father Michael felt that most of the cou­ples he saw had no clue as to what ‘for bet­ter or worse, in sick­ness or in health’ might mean for them down the line.

On the oth­er hand, I recall Father Michael talk­ing about the sto­ries of how some cou­ples met and how God’s hand was so evi­dent. He was very excit­ed one time about a cou­ple who both had chil­dren from pre­vi­ous mar­riages-and they had found each oth­er. He said they had a won­der­ful story—and Father Michael loved those sto­ries.  He said “so they will be a blend­ed fam­i­ly”. I said ” Oh like that old movie ‘Yours, Mine and Ours’.” Father Michael  laughed and said “No ‘Ours’ yet!”  He paused and thought a sec­ond and then said “well .…MAYBE!”

I did get a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive on Father M’s beliefs on mar­riage from oth­er expe­ri­ences and things he’d say. Once we were on Ash­land Avenue by St Pius, wait­ing to cross. Father was well into his can­cer treat­ment and was very weak. I was about to dri­ve him to St Vincent’s. We were talk­ing about Thomas Peters’ recov­ery (see ‘The Won­der­ment of God’).  I men­tioned that there was still so much online vit­ri­ol toward Thomas regard­ing his uphold­ing the church’s teach­ings on mar­riage. Father Michael said “You mean the tra­di­tion­al church teach­ing on mar­riage?” I said “Yes, of course”.  Father Michael got vis­i­bly agi­tat­ed and said “Hey, he has it easy. Any­one who upholds the estab­lished posi­tion has it much eas­i­er than those who ques­tion it.”  The light changed and Father rushed ahead into the street. I caught up with him. I said I dis­agreed– that it real­ly depend­ed on the cir­cum­stances and con­di­tions— that ALL  sides would find it dif­fi­cult in some cir­cum­stances. He didn’t answer me. I decid­ed that I would not pur­sue it as I sel­dom had an unin­ter­rupt­ed time with Father. I didn’t want to waste the nice ride in the car on an argu­ment .

Once, short­ly after Pope Fran­cis was elect­ed, Father Michael called me. Unusu­al for us, we had a real con­ver­sa­tion as opposed to the typ­i­cal talk about chemo, the weath­er and the lot­tery. Father was agog at the “Who am I to judge?” Fran­cis quote.  I remem­ber being com­fort­able enough to dis­agree and expound on dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions where I felt ‘who am I to judge’ was not applic­a­ble. I had no sense that I was both­er­ing Father Michael. I remem­ber talk­ing about some peo­ple expect­ing this would pave the way to same-sex mar­riage. At that point Father inter­rupt­ed me and said force­ful­ly ” I know some­thing has to change.…..I’ve known too many peo­ple who suf­fer”. I start­ed to respond,then he said “Oh, I’m here at the clin­ic, talk to you lat­er”.  That was kind of a pat­tern: Father would say some­thing con­tro­ver­sial, then cut off the conversation.….at least with me.

So my gut tells me that, despite Father Michael’s rev­er­ent and awe-filled view of the sacra­ment of Mat­ri­mo­ny, he might have been open to oth­er non-tra­di­tion­al views of it. I have so many mov­ing impres­sions of how a tru­ly holy priest per­ceived and admired the voca­tion of marriage.Yet I have addi­tion­al mem­o­ries of things that he said hint­ing at a very lib­er­al and non-tra­di­tion­al per­spec­tive, at odds with church teach­ing.  What was the truth ?  I’ll always won­der.

All this from that darn syn­od !

These Holy Men of Mystery

fm-sr vowsI couldn’t let Sep­tem­ber get away with­out a post-so here it is at last. I know you all have been wait­ing with bat­ed breath. (HaHa) It’s been a busy month for me and I think they will be that way for a while -from now on.

Pope Fran­cis has just left the Unit­ed States. I think I am fed up with priests, bish­ops and car­di­nals -and their cell phones. For me it was just so bizarre to see par­tic­i­pat­ing priests, even con­cel­e­brants, in Papal Mass­es, just shoot­ing away. Oth­er observers seem to feel it was charm­ing sight — imper­fect, but under­stand­ably human . I dis­agree, but I’ll leave it at that.

As usu­al, I don’t know what to say about Pope Fran­cis. To me, he is a pal­pa­bly good man and straight­for­ward in many, many ways. I liked him so much at first- and still do. I even remem­ber writ­ing to Father Michael after Fran­cis had been pope a few weeks. I end­ed my short note with “Father Michael, Pope Fran­cis is like YOU !!! “  Cer­tain­ly the open, lov­ing, vis­i­ble atti­tude toward all peo­ple was some­thing they both shared. I know they both had that gift of being able to express and show delight in each per­son. You know they see the Image of God in all.

I wish I knew what else they might have had in com­mon. Each one, in his own way, is still a mys­tery to me. It is amaz­ing how one can feel the pres­ence of God and His love in a per­son like Pope Fran­cis or a Father Michael.  There’s no deny­ing some­thing spe­cial is there-but you just know there is a ‘rest of the sto­ry’. I think for most peo­ple, none of that mat­ters. For them it is  more than enough that these gifts of God exist. But to oth­ers, like me, the ‘rest of the sto­ry’ is what tru­ly mat­ters: the whole truth.  I want to under­stand how these spe­cial peo­ple became that way. It is not enough for me to just accept “through God’s grace, a mys­tery”. I want to have the priv­i­lege of under­stand­ing as much as I can of that mys­tery.

I sus­pect that we will see more and more details as to what makes up Pope Fran­cis. He is cer­tain­ly real  right now . But  upcom­ing church events will sure­ly reveal more of him as time goes by.

Father Michael is a dif­fer­ent sto­ry. I can’t ask him ques­tions any more- or bet­ter said- I can’t expect any answers if I choose to both­er him in his heav­en­ly home.  But he had so many lov­ing friends with whom he shared his rich ful­fill­ing life. More of Father Michael’s sto­ry is cer­tain­ly out there.

I’ll end this with a ‘vignette’ from a short dream I hap­pened to remem­ber. I usu­al­ly don’t remem­ber dreams at all.Even with this one-I don’t know if there was any­thing more to it. This is what I recall:

I was in a large room, with many peo­ple around me. Across the room I saw anoth­er group of peo­ple , milling about lengths of tables. Noth­ing was dis­tinc­tive; every­thing and every­one every­where was BEIGE. I won­dered where I was and it came to me that it was like U.S. cus­toms at the air­port. Now, I’ve only been through a few times;and I’m not well-trav­eled at all. And it’s been 40 years since I’ve trav­eled out of the coun­try. I’m sure that cus­toms is not like this now. So in my dream I gazed away at the oth­er group. Sud­den­ly a col­or­ful fig­ure caught my atten­tion, mov­ing through the crowd,right up to the table. He was smil­ing right at me and looked so hap­py.  Yes, it was Father Michael . But he was dif­fer­ent, very dif­fer­ent-not dressed in his habit. He was wear­ing a black and jew­el-col­ored get­up. I could only see to his hip lev­el-the table obstruct­ed full view. The weird­est thing was that he was wear­ing a black beret. At least that’s what I thought at first, but then it seemed like the kind of hat that St Thomas More wore. I con­clud­ed that it was actu­al­ly like aca­d­e­m­ic attire worn for for­mal meet­ings at uni­ver­si­ties. I also saw that the flash of col­or, a bright bur­gundy, was like a tri­an­gu­lar lapel or sash across his chest. Father Michael just con­tin­ued to beam at me. I asked him “Why are you so far away?” No answer, just the con­tin­ued smile and a lit­tle wave. That was it.

Adven­tures in Par­adise?  Pay­ing a vis­it to his alma mater?  My brain work­ing over­time?  Got­ta say, what­ev­er it was, it was nice to see Father Michael.

Here Comes the Shun

imagesI’ve been think­ing about writ­ing this post since that last time I was ill and had immersed myself in many inter­est­ing blogs. So many things to think about.…

A few days ago, I went to Mass and the Gospel was  about fra­ter­nal cor­rec­tion. Our priest focused on what Jesus said about those who did not accept the correction:“Treat them as you would a Gen­tile or tax col­lec­tor.” The priest stressed that though these peo­ple were pret­ty much shunned in the soci­ety of that time and place, Jesus hung out with them all the time. So the mes­sage of the Lord was real­ly to stay open-mind­ed about these peo­ple, to not close the door on them. Be avail­able, be hope­ful, be kind-con­tin­ue to seek them out.

That brought to my mind an old blog arti­cle I’d read, extolling the “wis­dom” of Catholics reviv­ing the lost prac­tice of shunning.The rea­son­ing was that, in these days of peo­ple open­ly liv­ing lifestyles con­trary to church teach­ing, shun­ning is an obvi­ous way to point out their sin (or as seems to be the pop­u­lar ver­nac­u­lar now-their ‘error in judg­ment’). The post cit­ed this scripture-“shake the dust from your sandals”-as the Bib­li­cal basis for shun­ning.

Well, the blog post was one thing, but the com­ments were quite anoth­er. I was sur­prised at how many peo­ple jumped in the dis­cus­sion with enthu­si­asm for shun­ning. Most word­ed their com­ments care­ful­ly, and avoid­ed sound­ing impos­si­bly self-right­eous. Yet, as I read these words, I felt some dis­ap­point­ment that so many saw a spe­cial authority/wisdom/grace in dis­play­ing dis­ap­proval.

The blog dis­cussed the mer­its of com­plete­ly ignor­ing oth­ers, kind of a cold turkey cut­off of all fel­low­ship, friend­ship, sharing.Whatever evil the sin­ner was prac­tic­ing, that took pri­or­i­ty over any ves­tige of good­ness that they might pos­sess. It seems way too extreme to me. I think, as hard as it may be to do, peo­ple respond bet­ter to direct address. No, not read­ing them the riot act, or lec­tur­ing them, but ask­ing ques­tions tact­ful­ly, express­ing con­cern, being engaged, hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion. I envi­sion it as a very kind con­fronta­tion. Cold turkey cut­offs are a step back­ward, cru­el­ty dis­guised as bad man­ners.

Inter­est­ing­ly, think­ing about shun­ning in the extreme gave me an insight into a prac­tice that is far more com­mon. It’s kind of like a selec­tive shun­ning. Peo­ple choose to selec­tive­ly ignore some­thing, a rela­tion­ship, a per­son, an event, a con­ver­sa­tion, that is an inte­gral part of another’s life. They cut con­ver­sa­tions off, they look the oth­er way, they change the sub­ject. And these folks who do this are not cold-heart­ed or mean. Nor­mal­ly they are kind, open peo­ple; some even claim to be friends. But some­thing has con­vinced them to pass judg­ment on anoth­er . So they delib­er­ate­ly ignore this item of another’s life — some­thing that is mean­ing­ful to that oth­er per­son. Their log­ic and best judg­ment is ‘it’s for his own good. Don’t give it any respect or atten­tion, bet­ter to ignore it’. And they actu­al­ly believe that they are being lov­ing. This is where I real­ly appre­ci­ate the Lord’s advice-to per­son­al­ly con­front the per­son. He doesn’t play any stu­pid games. He’s not into manip­u­la­tion. He does not cal­cu­late. He states that He is always in our midst when “two or more” are gath­ered . Who wouldn’t want Him there? He wants us to talk.

But that takes courage, to be forth­right and hon­est yet gen­tle in your con­fronta­tion. And it involves a real risk as you speak your truth to your friend. You could be wrong. Your view may be skewed. You may receive enlight­en­ment from your friend that embar­rass­es  you. But you also could be right. And you may enlight­en your friend . It is also pos­si­ble that when all is said and done, you may lose that friend.

Selec­tive shun­ning is the manip­u­la­tive tool of choice these days,especially by ama­teur psy­chol­o­gists. I can see where it is ide­al because it will wear some vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple out, those unable to assert or explain them­selves . I can also see where those using it delude them­selves that they are being kind and Christ-like. But I can’t imag­ine the Lord ever refus­ing to have the con­ver­sa­tion.…

It Was Fascination…

stock_exchangeIn my sec­ond appoint­ment with Father Michael, he sur­prised me by talk­ing about the stock mar­ket. A long time before, I had told him that I’d inher­it­ed some mon­ey from my very spe­cial aunt. I explained that my inten­tion had been to stop work­ing at my very stress­ful job. I thought I’d take a break for a while and then try to find some­thing ‘ful­fill­ing’, non-stress­ful-and with­out a three to four hour round-trip com­mute.

Well, the econ­o­my and the stock mar­ket tanked. I felt uncom­fort­able con­sid­er­ing tak­ing a mod­est-salaried job from some­one who need­ed the mon­ey way more than I did. So I bus­ied myself with a few trips, some fam­i­ly wed­ding prepa­ra­tions and lots of genealog­i­cal research. I was amazed at times how quick­ly the days passed as I worked on the fam­i­ly tree. And so I explained all this to Father Michael.

We talked about my aunt, who was a true indi­vid­ual for her era. I explained how she some­times had worked three part time jobs, was fru­gal and saved. I told Father M how my aunt loved to swim in Lake Michi­gan and spent all her spare time on the beach in the sum­mer. She was able to con­vince one of her boss­es that she could do a full day’s work in four to five hours. She’d get to work at 6 AM and be at the lake­front by 11AM.….with her boss’s bless­ing. In the win­ter, she just went home ear­ly. This same boss was extreme­ly gen­er­ous with my aunt and gave her huge Christ­mas bonus­es. I remem­ber one for $6000 one year and $10,000 a few years lat­er. And this was in the ear­ly 60’s!  My aunt invest­ed in the mar­ket, with guid­ance from her boss. Father Michael remarked “the broth­ers and I often mar­vel at these amaz­ing women and the amount of mon­ey they amass.”  He was quite impressed. Inter­est­ing to me that rich women were the sub­ject of pri­o­ry dis­cus­sion.

Father M was also com­plete­ly intrigued by the stock mar­ket. He asked me some sur­pris­ing­ly blunt and,to be hon­est, nosy ques­tions. I answered most, but was tak­en aback by quite a few of them. One was about the approx­i­mate per­cent­age and dol­lar amount of prof­it I had earned the past year. There were more that were sim­i­lar to that; Father M was quite bold.He stared at me with those big eyes, look­ing com­plete­ly guile­less. I just stared back at him and didn’t answer. I very much had the feel­ing that he was try­ing to gauge exact­ly how much mon­ey I had in invest­ments. Per­haps I was wrong.….

Father Michael changed the sub­ject a bit and talked about his old­er brother’s loss­es in the mar­ket. He asked me what my broker’s new strat­e­gy was. I told him “Well, he’s always telling me ‘stay the course’”. Father Michael said that was what his broth­er was doing, but he hadn’t recov­ered all his loss­es. But he assured me that his brother’s busi­ness had con­tin­ued to do very well.  This con­ver­sa­tion just amazed me. I had nev­er expect­ed to dis­cuss this with Father.

Father M then admit­ted to being a lit­tle embar­rassed by his inter­est in finances. He relayed how he had been “prayer part­ners” with a lady in the parish,who had recent­ly passed away. He told me “You know I’d go over to her house and she would go over all her stocks and invest­ments and how they were doing. She knew I was fas­ci­nat­ed with them. But then it would be time for our prayer and I would find it dif­fi­cult to NOT think about those stocks!”  I admired his hon­esty in admit­ting that.

Fun­ny, now I remem­ber how I pur­chased some $20 instant tick­ets as a spe­cial treat for Father after the can­cer diag­no­sis. Father Michael was so excit­ed, but he put off scratch­ing the tick­ets till late in the evening. Lat­er he texted me that all he could think about dur­ing evening prayer was what he would do if he won a mil­lion dol­lars. So I’m think­ing “well, of course he’ll be help­ing the poor”. I was NOT expect­ing “Hey, I’ll be call­ing you from Hawaii”. Anoth­er time he told me “You know what hap­pens if I win, right?”  I said “No-what hap­pens?”  Father Michael: “I’m out­ta here!”

Father Michael — as he would say- “What a hoot !”