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.”

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 .

Oh Happy Day !

 

Leap-for-JoyJuly 6, 2015 is the day I’m celebrating. My niece Emily delivered a healthy baby boy that afternoon. Mother, baby and…… father (!) are doing just fine. New life is always a miracle and meant to be celebrated, but this one is a very special gift. My niece has MS and there were many worries prior to the pregnancy. MS meds had to be suspended; risks abounded. And no one knows how the disease may change for Emily post partum. But God is good, as Father Michael would remind us! And I am grateful and so hopeful that “all will be well”.

As you may know, Father Michael had a special place for Emily in his prayer intentions. He prayed for her as soon as she was diagnosed and throughout her treatments, even as he suffered through his own ‘malady’.Even  after his death I know Father continued to watch over Emily from Heaven. So this was a very calm and peaceful pregnancy. I know Father M will happily continue to keep an eye on this new family.

On a much more earthbound note, I finished the THIRD afghan for this little baby on June 25. I washed it on the ‘hand wash’ cycle of my machine. It came out perfect. I debated about taking a chance on the (demon) dryer. My brain is sing-songing “oh you of little faith” and reminding me of faith moving mountains. My common sense is saying “nice that you remember the quotes and stories, but the Lord appreciates it when you’re not stupid.”  So I skipped the dryer and hung the blanket draped between two hangers. It took two days to dry.

Finally, late Saturday morning I packed up the afghan. My husband took it to the post office, sent it Priority Mail, two day delivery -but not guaranteed. $15, but worth it, right? It was insured and due to get to Connecticut on Monday. Good deal!  Sunday I checked the tracking; the package was still in Illinois. I checked on Monday, supposedly the delivery date. “Arrived at Las Vegas, NV @1:18 am”.  Oh no-I was dreading that the next update would say ‘out for delivery’. But no, late that evening, the tracking said “departed Las Vegas NV”. No word then until July 1. The package got to Springfield MA! I began to be hopeful that it just might make it to Connecticut- maybe even the following day. Well, it did make it to Connecticut on the 2nd of July. But it went to another town on the 3rd, then finally to the correct town and a front porch delivery!!!!! Took a full seven days. I just can’t say enough about Priority Mail.

So just thought I’d catch you up on the news. But I’ve got some musings and some more Father Michael memories coming up soon.

Remember Father Rivers’ Mass from the ’60s?  I do, fondly. Seems appropriate for a happy day:

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.

 

Sensing the Spirit

worshipHere is a true story. It is one of the highlights and fondest memories of my life.  It was either late  fall 1980 or early 1981. I was expecting my third child , due in late February 1981. I had an appointment at my obstetrician for my regular checkup. It was cold yet sunny outside, but there was no snow. There had been some moisture which turned into small ice patches on the sidewalks and streets.

At this period of my life, we owned one car which my husband needed to get to and from his two jobs. It was a rough time, when he had to go immediately from his full time job to the part-time evening job. He saw the kids only on weekends. So anyway, I had to use the bus or cab service for any commutes beyond walking distance. On this particular day, I had enough money to pay for a one-way cab trip to the doctor’s, but would have to take the bus back home.

I called the local Blue Cab number and soon there was the sound of a horn in front of my house. I headed for the door nearest the curb, but the driver told me to “Come around to the street side.” I got in and settled directly behind the driver-a young man wearing a baseball cap. A talk radio station babbled as background noise. He looked at  me in his rearview mirror and asked “Where are you going?” I gave the address, a distinctive building, about four miles away-a fifteen minute ride .

Gosh, he was a talkative young man! He quickly turned the radio off so he could talk to me! I was always pretty quiet and didn’t usually open up to friendly cab drivers. But this guy was so engaging,so courteous. He talked and talked. We had an “eye to eye” conversation, looking at each other in the mirror. I couldn’t see his face, only his eyes. He asked a lot of questions. One was: why I was heading to this particular building? I said “Well, I’m going to the doctor”. He replied with a “Oh no, are you ill?” “No”, I said ,”just pregnant! It’s a regular checkup”. He congratulated me and then started talking about families, family size, schooling children, types of preschool education, Catholic education. Such an interesting and informed young man!

He explained to me that he was ‘completing studies’ and wondered if I wouldn’t mind answering some questions as it would help him with his research. Well, he had won me over with his kind and engaging personality, so I said sure. I really wanted to help him, he was that charming. I speculated that he was studying social work, psychology or education from how the conversation had gone. I didn’t mind answering his questions. Some of them were surprisingly personal, for example: “Why is there a five year gap between your last child and this new baby?”  Yes, that was one and the driver  apologized for their nature , but explained again how they would help in his studies .When I answered the questions he would then pull over and write copious notes on a clipboard.

While he questioned me, he volunteered some information about himself. He told me he was Canadian and studying here in Chicago. I told him I’d spent my honeymoon in Québec. He was familiar with the Château Montebello where we’d stayed and remarked that the G7 summit would be held there the next summer. I asked where he had come from in Canada. And I don’t remember what he told me. I do remember that as I ‘placed’ him geographically, I said ” Wow, you are a long way from home! ” He mentioned his studies here again and I asked if any of his family would visit or would be visiting (again I don’t recall if this was before or after Christmas) for the holidays. But he said no, he’d had no visitors from home.

He began to talk fondly about his family in Canada. He missed them. It was a large family- again I don’t remember the number. But for me to remember it as large; it would have to be at least seven children. I was surprised when he told me the age of his youngest sibling. Then he got quite somber and explained that his mother had died when he was in his teens . The youngest children were so very young to deal with the loss. I was so sad, hearing this. I asked if his father had had help from extended family. He said “Oh yes, thank God for family and for our neighbors”.

So for fifteen minutes, maybe a bit more, I had this most engaging, interesting conversation with a complete stranger. We continued to chat as we arrived in front of the doctor’s office. I moved to the middle of the back seat and leaned forward to finally look this guy in the face. He was writing on his clipboard. I said to him “You’ve talked so much about your studies…what exactly are you studying?” I stared at his profile as he smiled and continued to write. He said “Aw, you’ll never guess.” So I kind of took this as a challenge and I’m thinking, ‘this guy is just so nice,seems so good, so kind, so special’. And it popped into my head, I hesitated, but something insistently told me ‘go ahead, say it !!!’  And I blurted out “You’re studying in the seminary and you’re going to be a priest”. Well, he was so stunned, he slowly turned to look at me and then he just stared at me, eyes wide open. Didn’t say a word. There was no response. I then felt embarrassed and started to apologize, but he stopped me. He became so very serious and quiet. I paid him then, awkwardly, but he wouldn’t take my tip.

So the driver got out of the car and walked around, fiddled with my door and eventually got it open. He had taken his cap off and was holding it in both hands, standing there waiting. I studied him quickly and immediately thought he seemed older than the college student I had assumed he was.As I got out he walked up to me and took my arm. He was a shorter guy, slightly built and I said “Oh no, I’m just fine”. But he said “No, it’s icy, you might slip” and gripped more tightly. So I walked along with him and I did slip and he braced me, so I didn’t fall. We got to the door and I said “I’ll be fine”. Ever since I’d said those words to this man I had literally felt this ‘buzz’ for my boldness and then, too, for the obvious, serious effect they had had on this kind man. I was mystified that I’d spoken those words aloud- so unlike me!

I went into the building alone and stood by the elevators, still feeling the adrenaline or something. I wanted to jump or yell or run….some kind of very pleasant energy. I waited there a couple minutes. Suddenly the driver was standing there beside me. He handed me a post-it on which he had written the cab company number and some weird nickname referencing Canada (which I can’t remember). It was something silly like ‘Steve the Canuck’, or ‘Winnipeg Joe”. I looked at him and smiled. He moved to stand in front of me and said “Please call and ask for me anytime you need a ride. I’ll be happy to take you anywhere, no charge.” He was still very serious in his demeanor, but again with such kindness. He then said he wanted to return to take me home from my appointment and that I should call him.But I felt I had shaken him up enough for one day. So we said goodbye. A few months later, I asked for him when I ordered a cab….he ‘no longer worked there’ I was told.

That day, after my appointment, I was still so wired, I walked all the way home!!!  I was so full of joy about what had happened. As I walked all those blocks, I was often compelled to extend my arms up into the air for the pure joy of it. I kept thinking “Praise God”. I just couldn’t contain my happiness; it was as though I had witnessed a great thing.

For years I kept that post-it in my wallet. I prayed for “Steve the Canuck” every time I saw it. I prayed for him at bedtime for years. I still pray for him and I often wonder what happened to him. I am confident that some day , in this life or the next, the Lord will tell me. I’ll bet it’s a great story.

Here is the Father Michael ‘connection’—from the day I heard Father called a ‘seer’ (see Blessed Seer), I also had the sense that I had met him before. In the vestibule, I saw him in profile and instantly felt I knew him from somewhere. I know for that to be true a lot of dates/facts would have to gibe. From what I have tried to check and match up, I don’t think they do.

Long ago, I sent this story as an email to Father Michael. He never responded to it, not even with a “Gee, that was a great story” – which would have been the norm for him. Kind of odd…..so it leaves things open. I often wonder if the reason I saw the driver as older with his hat off -was that he was losing his hair.

Isn’t it wonderful to think that this could be about Father Michael ? Some things were so uncanny. No matter what though, I’ll always treasure my unique experience from long ago .

Father Michael would have turned 62 today.