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.….

images

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.