The Truth of the Song

I am remembering Father Michael on this fourth anniversary of his death. I am pleased to tell you that the parish hall, Kyte Hall, is completed—and in use ! We are about to celebrate Easter. And Father Michael, absent in one way, is still here and with us in so many others. We rejoice in the truth of the song. Thanks be to God.

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


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.



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…..


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 :

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


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… 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….