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:

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Compassionate and Honest

Green Pastures/Megan Duncanson
Green Pastures/Megan Duncanson

I’ve remembered more from my first appointment with Father Michael. I know some subjects carried over to the second and subsequent appointments. I suppose it really doesn’t matter- except from my perspective. That first appointment was an introduction to a stranger- a very holy man – who was full of surprises. One of the amusing things that happened was that Father Michael kept trying to find out my age.Several times he mentioned the year he graduated from high school and other significant events of the ’70s and asked me where I was when they occurred .  I finally realized that he wanted to know my age, so I just told him. I don’t know why it was so important to him, but he seemed calmer once he knew.

Another discussion was about my family, my ethnicity, my siblings, my parents. I mentioned that my dad had died in 1986. Father asked what my dad had died of and his age. I replied “He died of leukemia at sixty-one”. Well, as soon as I said that Father said loudly and incredulously. “Sixty-one? sixty-one? Why, I’m fifty-nine myself!!!”  And as he spoke, he reacted- he put both hands to his face, holding them there for a second , then ran them up over his head a couple of times. And he paced as he did this. He seemed truly distressed. And I was touched again by his visible emotion. Then Father asked how long my dad had lived with the disease. “Two months,” I replied, ” he died in remission.” Again Father repeated my words “Two months?????” and again he got very upset .

Now you know Father had memory troubles; I’ve mentioned that before. The scene above about my dad’s death was repeated no less than four times in the two years I knew Father Michael. Each time, Father reacted exactly the same way. It was like he took it personally, as though it were a message for him. It was this experience and several others that bolstered my belief that Father was intuitive and ‘knew things’.

Before he was even diagnosed with cancer, Father would talk about things having to do with his death. Once I visited him in the sacristy and the first thing out of his mouth was that he had decided that when he died, he was going to have Instant Lottery tickets spread all over the inside of his casket. And then he said “but of course, I wouldn’t have them buried with me and waste them. I’d have them distributed to all the mourners before they closed the casket”. I was amused, but said , “Father M, why on earth are you even thinking about stuff like that??!!”  That time he answered that he’d been to quite a few wakes recently where this had been done–and he liked the idea. He brought this up a second time also, freaking me out a little.

Back to the appointment…..Father talked about his family, his older brother, in particular. Father was very proud of all his siblings. But there seemed to be a special bond between him and his older brother. I believe his older brother protected Father Michael as a child; he’d often spoken of being picked on. Father told of his brother’s education, accomplishments and wealth (yes, a little bragging). Then said “he is a wonderful, devout, progressive Catholic”. Then a moment later “and I am a progressive priest”.

I kind of expected that as I surmised it was part of the reason for Father Michael’s popularity. But I am not progressive, and I’d rather not label anybody or be labeled. When Father said this, he sounded so confiding and secretive, I immediately wanted to let him know that I thought differently. So I asked to tell him a story.It was about the parish I’d belonged to before St Vincent. It was a pretty wild place. My two older kids went to CCD there. Two sisters and a deacon prepared them for Reconciliation and First Communion. I attended the parent education meetings and in the ones for First Communion, I was taken aback by the lack of understanding of the sacrament. People talked about, bread, wine, symbols; no one seemed to have any kind of grasp of the Real Presence. The two sisters said nothing to enlighten or correct anyone. Nothing. I was shaken.

The sister in charge of the Communion catechesis began to preach at Mass on Sunday. It was nearly every Sunday. She was quite gifted,an excellent preacher, no denying that. The parish was integrated with many African-Americans coming to Mass because their kids attended the school. Sister, also African-American, really spoke to them and their lives. And her perspective was certainly enriching to the rest of us.But I realized she should not have been preaching and it bothered me.This continued for a year and then the sister began to wear priestly vestments for Mass. I tried to rationalize that one out; I couldn’t. My gut feeling was that sister was trying to enhance her authority by wearing the vestments. And though there were people like me who would think “who are you kidding?”, there were others who would not be aware of the falseness. I just thought it was wrong.

I contacted the Office of Divine Worship to talk to someone about it. (Father Michael nearly had a conniption when I told him this. He sat there listening, but steaming.) I had to document my observances by letter, so I did. I had to describe the vestments she wore. The priest in that office made sure I knew that a pastor could give permission for someone else to do the homily. He didn’t know what to say when I said ” But Father, it’s nearly every week!” Well, nothing happened. I left the parish and found St Vincent’s-a calm place. About ten years later, a conservative bishop had the sister reassigned. She became head of her order-no surprise there!

I made the point to Father Michael that the sister who was so driven to preach was the same one who didn’t bother to educate at all in the First Communion classes. He got that, but was irritated with me for my contacting the Archdiocese. He yelled at me, so angry that I would question a Dominican’s preaching charism. I yelled back “No, she was NOT a Dominican, Father Michael!”  He was also chagrinned that I would not automatically and unquestioningly support another woman. Father M must have been exposed to a lot of really testy feminists- that’s all I can figure. He acted like he was completely in their corner, but I feel he was trying to show sensitivity.

Anyway, Father Michael understood me better after that. Part of me didn’t want to ever hear that he might be at odds with church teaching. But now I often wonder what interesting scenarios he might have been part of, being progressive “and proud of it” and also open to “trumping the law”. Our appointment ended pleasantly and we continued to meet a few times more, before the cancer.

Once, on the phone, with Father Louie nearby, Father Michael stated that Louie was one of a select group who’d ever seen him get angry. I refreshed his memory about the experience I’ve just relayed. He was surprised and then remembered.

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Always the Shepherd

The Lost Sheep/Daniel Bonnell
The Lost Sheep/Daniel Bonnell

Yesterday I was looking at a video of a Dominican event that took place in March, 2013. At the end of the video the camera panned the group of people in attendance. Then it focused on some Dominican friars standing in the back of the room. And there he was, Father Michael, holding court just like he used to do at St Vincent, hugging and kissing up a storm. There was audio, too, and I could faintly hear Father’s voice. Gosh, it brought tears to my eyes to see, as real again, a  common scene I have remembered and cherished. Sad to say, they were still tears of sadness, not joy. I watched the clip twice and and then decided to just leave it alone. It’s not surprising to me that these ‘little things’ still hold a very deep meaning. Later I remembered that I had actually called Father M that day, wanting to know if he was ready to eat some pies after completing his chemo. Well, he was out of state, he said, but he was anxious for pie upon his return to St Pius. It was exactly a year and a day before he died.

I want to focus on the positive. So I’ve decided that I will share some early memories of Father Michael-before his cancer diagnosis. I know that I have mentioned that I came back to my parish to discuss some spiritual issues with a priest. It was not a matter of confession; there was more to it. After a long delay, I approached Father M and he was very welcoming. First I emailed Father, then I visited him in the sacristy, then set up an appointment. This is about my first appointment.

I made the appointment about a week before and was a little nervous, yet felt I had found the right person. I was so impressed with Father Michael, I thought “I just know he’s going to talk about the grace of Reconciliation”. I was sure he would suggest that to me. I thought if I made my confession to Father Michael, I’d be so emotionally spent that I wouldn’t be able to talk about all the other stuff. So that morning,after Mass at St Vincent, I went to a close-by parish for Confession. I knew the priests were available right after Mass. So funny, because I think I felt like I had to cleanse my soul before I dared face the very holy Father Michael. And yes, he did bring up Reconciliation that day!

Well, I was on time for the appointment, Father Michael was a few minutes late. I knew he had been with a prominent member of our parish who had passed away. The receptionist had been on the phone “getting the word out”. When Father arrived, we went into his office and sat down. Even though I had eaten, my stomach had been rumbling away-probably nerves. I decided to just be open about it and apologize for the noise ahead of time. Well, Father M laughed and said “Oh you don’t know about me and my stomach issues. Girl, you and I will just sit here and gurgle at each other!” So that broke the awkwardness for me! Father Michael then started to give me a history of his stomach issues,the current ones (which many ladies of the parish knew well-and discussed freely) . He then told of the bleeding ulcer he had in Denver. He was Dominican Novice Master at the time. He said the doctors had told him he had “24 hours to live”. He claimed he told them “Good, no drama, don’t worry about notifying my family”. He never said how long it took him to recuperate or if his family were ever notified. I asked what he thought caused the ulcer and he said “I kind of let everything get away from me”. I didn’t feel comfortable asking him to elaborate, though now I wish I had. In later conversations, he did say that whenever his stomach would give him trouble, he’d just stop eating,sometimes for a few days. He talked about possibly having lactose intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome and multiple bowel obstructions. Father M was very frank about this stuff- though he never mentioned a doctor’s diagnosis. And– he also alluded to some regret about not being stricter as a Novice Master-“when I hear how some of them are now.”

So after the stomach discussion Father asked me about myself. He was so careful in how he asked about education. It was clear to me that he was leery of offending someone (especially a woman) by assuming her level of education was lower than she had achieved. I’ll bet he’d made that faux pas a few times! The caution was actually very charming. But I only have a B.A. from Loyola-so he had nothing to fear. That’s pretty average. Then Father asked more questions about possibly stressful situations in my life. I recognized all the queries as being pretty standard about death, divorce, moving, job, abuse, addiction. Father was very gentle and kind and tentative in his questioning. I think he just assumed I was having marital problems. He mentioned annulments and remarriage a few times. Well, my issue was none of these, but it took me three or four appointments before I felt comfortable telling him. I didn’t want to be discourteous and shut down all his kind effort, so I went along with it.

Of course we talked about other things, most notably family, Reconciliation and the Eucharist. But most interestingly, Father Michael gave me a little lecture on the power of the sense of touch. He explained that when he was a freshman at Dalhousie University, he and his older brother had attended a seminar or lecture by a very famous scientist. The lecture was all about the sense of touch and how important and meaningful it was. I found myself thinking “I am a wife and mother of three, why is he telling me this? If nothing else, I am fully aware of how important this is for bonding mother and baby.” Well, Father talked for over ten minutes on this subject. I was fascinated at his great emotion in relaying his thoughts with such conviction. Father ended his talk telling me of the new widow he had just left. He described poignantly how she had stroked her dead husband’s arm over and over. And he showed me just how she did this. He choked up and teared up as he described his awe being in the presence of such a great love.Quite an unexpected turn in our talk, but as I grew to know Father better, I learned that using touch was a hallmark of Father Michael’s being.

Then we spoke of the Eucharist. I’ve written about this awhile back. For some reason Father Michael was impressed by my words that day. I still wish I could remember what I’d said. In any case, Father M started talking about the way people received the Eucharist , people who would just grab IT from him, those who approached disrespectfully, those who would receive and just walk out the door. He lamented that poor catechesis  had resulted in people ‘who didn’t have a clue’. He was truly sad about this. Then Father shared the experience of celebrating Mass in Canada with those very close to him. He quickly gave a rundown of those who were no longer practicing Catholics and those extended family who belonged to different denominations. With big tears rolling down his cheeks, he said “I feel so bad about their receiving Communion, but I don’t know what to say.” Wow, was I surprised about that!!!!  After all he was a priest-and a good and holy one- who wouldn’t listen to him?  I was concerned and empathetic, seeing again this great emotion show so quickly. I said “Father Michael, I can understand that you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or start a war, but maybe one of your brothers could explain this in a non-hurtful way”. Father just shook his head, he felt truly helpless about the situation. Father was unique in openly showing his vulnerability and I was privileged to see this in significant matters of faith. When he visited Canada, I prayed that he might have peace about this.

In my earliest posts, I’ve written about other aspects of this meeting. I won’t repeat them here.The meeting ended most pleasantly. And I felt that God had given me a great gift in leading me to Father Michael. It is so nice to reminisce. So much was so meaningful.

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Made To Shine

images

More thoughts from my illness hiatus are coming back to me. I did a lot of internet reading while sick; couldn’t do much else! I have several favorite blogs I tapped into regularly.

One of these blogs is “One Mad Mom”, written by a California home schooling mom, who wholeheartedly supports embattled Archbishop Cordileone, of San Francisco. She’s just excellent. I especially enjoyed her posts “Meet the Laity” and “Doing the Pastoral Thing”.

Here’s a quote from that blog that I really like; it is from Archbishop Cordileone’s speech to seminarians:

This is being pastoral: encountering the other, establishing a relationship with them, being lovingly present to them. A priest cannot possibly hope to help his people grow in holiness if he is not present to them. His loving, pastoral presence to them at those most critical moments of life – the loss of a loved one, the birth of a child, marriage, times of crisis – all of this prepares the ground for him to, when necessary, challenge them for their own ongoing conversion. So make no mistake: truly doing the “pastoral thing” will always be harder, it will always place demands on you, sometimes inconvenient and uncomfortable demands; it will require you to work hard.

The Archbishop then goes on to contrast ideologue and lazy priests with those being truly pastoral. Lots of food for thought, especially for Catholics who would never question the behavior or motivation of their priests. I commend ‘One Mad Mom’ for spotlighting these things.

Speaking of behavior of priests: one ‘rock star’ priest is one too many, in my opinion. A local community is having to deal with the aftermath of ‘an error in judgment’ by their very popular priest. I am aware of a similar, but as yet unpublicized situation in another neighboring diocese. Lawsuits all over the place. These sad situations brought back to my mind some thoughts of Father Hunwicke in late 2014. (his blog is Father Hunwicke’s Mutual Enrichment) Father wrote a post on celibacy in December. I think he makes some excellent points, particularly about extreme extroverts in the priesthood:

Since the 1960s, there has been much talk about mercy, and forgiveness, and similar very splendid things. It has been an era in which we have been urged not to be too preoccupied with sin, particularly sexual sin. A Catholic priest with much professional competence in this area has explained to me that one psychological reason for the bitter hatred of the Extraordinary Form among senior clergy of a certain age has been that they associate it with a cruel, rigid, sin-obsessed sex-proccupied form of Catholicism upon which they look back with fear and detestation. So: ‘merciful’ bishops were disinclined to ‘ruin’ a priest for ‘just one lapse’, or even two or three. Or four. After all, as we have been informed over and over again, sexual sins are not the only sorts of sins; spiritual sins such as Pride, and sins against Social Justice, are far more displeasing in the sight of God than mere lapses from Chastity. Our Oz friends could look into the problem of ‘liberal’ bishops as well.
My own, again anecdotal, experience has inclined me to think that ‘charismatic’ leaders, admired by the media and surrounded by adoring groupies, can be peculiarly vulnerable to sexual temptation. J F Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and, within the Church, bishop Eamonn Casey … and Fr Macial Maciel … and Fr Lelio Cantini … spring to mind; and one bishop of my acquaintance in the Church of England was another. He was held in such tremendously high regard, not least in the very highest reaches of the British Establishment, that after acknowledging his guilt, accepting a police warning, and resigning his diocese, he immediately started spreading it around that he was completely innocent, but had pleaded guilty to save the Church the embarrassment of a public trial. This claim was accepted by people unwilling to face up to the fact that they had been gullible dupes. So plausible was he that his one-time diocesan superior, when he came later to write his own autobiography, roundly asserted the total innocence of his fellow-bishop and put the entire episode down to a Wicked Plot. I think psychometric experts should examine with even more than their usual acuity candidates for ordination who are at the extreme ‘extrovert‘ end of the spectrum. Oz could look into this side of things as well.

Father Hunwicke is so erudite and so funny. And his Latin references bowl me over and challenge me, as I have only studied Latin for two years. He never ‘dumbs it down’; he is respectful to his readers. I appreciate his wise and frank words.

And then there was a post on the Personalist Project’s website titled “Overcoming Clericalism”. I will only quote a small portion addressing clericalism, which I have edited. Katie van Schaijik wrote:

Homilies that seem addressed to a congregation of fourth graders. The priest is the teacher; we are the children. He tells a cutesy anecdote or two, then gives us little explanations and instructions designed to make the faith accessible for beginners. Nothing in the tone or content expresses a due awareness of the fact that the church is likely full of mature Catholics, many of whom are highly educated in their faith—some more educated than the priests (and deacons). They don’t need instruction, but preaching of the kind Pope Francis calls for in the Gospel of Joy.

…………….. Some lay Catholics need instruction. But nobody needs patronizing; no adults should be addressed as if they’re children. And all Catholics, regardless of our level of maturity and knowledge need good preaching. Good preaching, like the Scriptures it’s about, should be “shallow enough for an ant to wade in and deep enough for an elephant to swim in.”

One of the problems we’re dealing with, though, is that an alarming number of priests come across as serious cases of arrested development. They don’t seem to have matured properly as human beings. I hope the Archbishop will find a way to address this problem at the seminary and beyond. Among my suggestions would be to encourage much more interaction between priests and laity on the level of true friendship.

I identified with hearing a fourth grade level homily. It’s not always the case in my parish, but it happens enough. And I don’t know about the arrested development being rampant. I’m not a psychologist. But I can definitely see the point of interaction between priests and laity on a level of true friendship. In my experience, this is where many priests will go through the motions, and say all the right things, but never truly let down their guard. They are friend-ly , but not a friend. The priest shares his presence, but not his true self.

Formators talk about attracting well-rounded, intelligent, highly educated men to the priesthood. Somehow when I read their assessments of their newest candidates, they sound more like snobbish brags anxious to cultivate and advertise an ‘intellectual’ machismo. I get the feeling that that aspect is most important, rather than nurturing and inspiring virtue in these men.  But what do I know? These days an awful lot of people abide by the adage “If it works, don’t fix it”. Maybe that’s the case here, but I have to wonder—is it really working?

So thought I’d share the thoughts that have been on my mind this last month. I swear I dreamed of these things over and over when I was sick! They just stayed with me. But I am glad I was compelled to do the reading. And there is so much more, I’ll save it for another time.

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Devil in the Dryer ?

9-1Gone for over a month-and I come back with such silliness. That’s fine, I need a break from the serious stuff !

In a way , this is still a serious matter. My niece, who has MS, is about to become a mother. The baby, a little boy, is due to arrive on July 11. There was a baby shower in early April. I had crocheted a beautiful multicolored afghan in fluffy yarn for the baby. The afternoon before the shower, as is my custom, I decided to wash and dry the afghan. I have a dog and a cat and I just think it is courteous to wash the gift item, so it will be free of animal hair. Also, fabric softener lends a nice scent.

Now I’ve done many, many baby blankets with this fluffy yarn, washed them with no problem. The yarn label states “machine washable and dryable”. But that evening in April, I removed the afghan from the dryer and was stunned. First, it had stretched to about one and a half times its correct size. As a result of this, all the stitches were loose and stringy-looking. Then the beautiful colors had lost their intensity because they were so spread apart. It looked dingy. The yarn, which normally is nubby and irregular in a cozy way, turned wispy and ragged. I was so upset!

Luckily, I had stopped at a local shop and picked up a few little extras for the baby earlier that day. Those became my main gift at the shower. I wrote a note to my niece explaining what had happened. And I said another afghan would be forthcoming.

I really wanted to do the same pattern, but decided I should choose a different one- but using the same normally lovely yarn. I had to order some more yarn. A week later it arrived and I was anxious to get started.  But then I became very ill and my arms ached so much, I was not able to do a darn thing! After three weeks, I felt better  and I finally was able to start the blanket. I completed it in three days; I was very pleased with how it turned out.

So again, I decided to wash the blanket. I actually prayed as I placed it in my washer on the “delicate” cycle with lukewarm water. I left out the fabric softener. Later I held my breath as I removed the blanket from the washer. It looked just fine! I was so happy. I put it in the dryer with a big fluffy towel to help prevent any pilling. And I added a fabric softener sheet……and I think that was my mistake.

Twenty minutes later, I pulled out another raggy, beat-up afghan. My heart sank. I was beside myself. I could have cried, but I also was angry. It had to have been either the fabric softener sheet or the dryer itself. As I said earlier, I’ve washed this yarn before – without a problem. I’ve used fabric softener every time. So, maybe it was just the dryer…..I am tempted to call it the demonic dryer. Found the perfect picture to illustrate this-haha. I’d show you pictures of the two hideous afghans, but I think most people would have a hard time believing they were ever pretty.

So now I have started again. Same yarn,different pattern. I’ve actually chuckled seeing reviews of the yarn stating “washes and dries like a dream”. More like a nightmare!!! I find the possibility of facing the same dryer experience scary. But maybe the third time will be the charm. And hey, it’s a Mystical number!   My niece is waiting, probably thinking she will get nothing from me. I am so irked that my lack of a gift comes across as discourtesy, when really it has been completely demoralizing for me. Plus there is the fact of all the work involved, going down the drain. Yes, it is work I love to do , but work nonetheless!

Say a prayer for me!

“Patience gains all things”- Teresa de Ávila

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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.

 

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Spring’s Subtle Memento

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

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

Me:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My sister:

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

Me:

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

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

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

What an example! Unforgettable.

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

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

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

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

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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.

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After All, We Are An Easter People

549443_873708899357112_6993983978990308286_nIt’s just after midnight on Easter Sunday. I attended the Easter vigil at St Vincent’s. It was exciting to welcome the newly baptized and confirmed members of our church. That was a true highlight of the liturgy. I’m glad I attended for that reason.

But gosh, the homily was such a downer. Just my insignificant opinion.  Our priest chose to emphasize the negative (dead- as he put it) attitudes in our lives…..on Easter!! No encouragement, no empathy, no attempt to understand…..so depressing.  It left me feeling sad, for I know every one  of the congregation has experienced these feelings.

To counter this I’m going to share some wonderful words of Father Michael from his emails to me. I needed to be lifted up after that homily; reading them has  helped immensely. Hope you all will enjoy the POSITIVE:

After our first ‘in-person’ meeting-

I was thrilled to see you this morning “in the sacristy”!!!!! You are so joyful and faithfilled and your family is lucky having you praying for them.Come often just to laugh or say hi !

         If you want to chat about anything, call anytime.

         Blessings,

Father Michael


Know you are welcome anytime to share anything. You can decide when it is good or the spirit guides you. I’m thrilled with your story. God is so powerful and yet we still need to hear these kinds of stories.

        Hope the rest of the day is great.. Keep COOL as best as you can.

Blessings
Fr. Michael op


    I don’t mind at all receiving your emails. I am sorry to read your son’s view of faith. Sometimes I   wonder how our children turn so far from faith after being formed in it. But with God all things are possible and that anger/hurt may turn to a new zeal. Maybe now that he is looking for a job, he will be more open to God’s grace and gifts.

        Blessings on all your worries but gratefulness for your faith.

Father Michael


        Thanks for that funny story about your Aunt. Everyone should have an aunt like that.

       I am so touched by your generous offer. Honestly, that is hardly necessary. I have loved my priesthood these 25 years although there have been painful times. But God has always stuck with me. Hardly a day goes by where I don’t pray in gratitude for his fidelity. I am awed by it.

It is true that the most devastating moment in my academic life led me to the Dominicans. I have often thought of that. Today, it was comforting to know someone of the status of St. Alphonsus Liguori had a terrible professional experience that led to great things.

I’m off to Canada on Friday. Say a prayer that all will be well with the family. I just want pleasant weather and to swim.

Blessings
Fr. Michael


After an unpleasant, touchy ‘discussion’ of common stereotypes:

I once did a talk with a Dominican sister and it was on stereotypes. We would mention a culture and the audience had to do a spontaneous response. It was astounding. For almost every culture the first response was negative. For example Irish equals drunk, German equals rigid etc. Truly, I have heard the Polish jokes but I have always been dismayed because of the brilliance of our Polish brothers and the faith that saved a nation when so much of Eastern Europe lost it. The human condition seems to move quickly to negative responses which I see as the result of original sin.

One blessing I have always thanked God for is that I usually can see positive things even in the terrible realities of life. Some say I have rose colored glasses, others just say I am naive. But I do believe God wants me to love and to live by positive reinforcement. There is a school of psychology that is directed at healing by affirmations that help the patient.

Anyway, I’m glad you are blessed with finding the good in people.

Also well done at the casino. I just know you have good karma!!!!!

Blessings
Fr. Michael


It is a wonderment to me that even in talking about  negative, unpleasant things, Father Michael was able to see the good, the hopeful, the positive. It is so good to see his words and remember.

I feel much better—–Happy Easter to all!

 

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Longing and Not Letting Go

2009+Ordination+(279)-1It’s April Fool’s Day, a year to the day that we buried our Father Michael. It’s also the good and kind Father Louie’s birthday. I’ll always remember what a fitting homily he gave to honor his best friend a year ago.

 The recent memorial Mass for Father Michael  seemed in some ways to celebrate a person that I had never known. I only got to know Father Michael right before his cancer diagnosis, when he was suffering from unknown stomach ailments. Although I had heard about his priestly partying, he was taking meds and being cautious at this time. At Mass there were pointed acknowledgments given to certain people and of favors helpful to Father Michael. It was a very, very exclusive group. I think the recognition could have been rendered to those fifteen(or so)people privately. The rest of us thousands of friends couldn’t expect to be mentioned , but it seemed so incredibly narrow for the full scope of Father’s friendships to be deliberately and pointedly ignored.The Father Michael I knew, who ‘talked the talk’ and ‘walked the walk’ about exclusion, would surely have been put off by this.

So if you were one of the thousands of other friends, like me, there was a feeling of emptiness, of being excluded, of not being appreciated. All those in attendance loved Father Michael. Most likely all prayed for him devotedly throughout his illness. We wept at his death. There was no lack of acknowledgment of his significance on our part. Our pastor waxed on about our having gratitude-one of his old themes regarding Father M. He was sincere and well-meaning and right, as usual. And the priest preaching the homily emphasized what a good, good priest Father Michael had been. He specified how Father Michael had served us so well in the most important moments of our lives. He talked about Father sharing our joy, illness, suffering, loss. But both priests lacked the warmth and conviction that comes with expressing the whole truth. What they said was all definitely true, I can’t fault them. But I know something was missing. I think the homilist touched upon it slightly when he said “We think of Father Michael with longing”.

I think they recognize our need to remember Father Michael. We’re going to build the hall in Father’s name-a good thing. We can continue to have memorial Masses-great. We have a scholarship fund and a preaching fund. But how do we address the longing for Father Michael?  How do our priests assist us in this?  They are the Order of Preachers; it is their charism to tell and instruct us.

I know the longing for Father Michael is the longing for God as embodied so beautifully in Father Michael. It is so strong that we cannot let it go-even after a year. I’m anxiously waiting for our good Dominicans to start talking.

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