LET IT aLL sTART hERE
For Catholics who care...
I am always looking for a hero. Maybe it is the generation of my coming to age that makes me inclined to do so (I was born in 1963, there were the ghosts of a good many, good men roaming about), or maybe I have always required a measuring stick to track my personal development, or maybe it’s just that as I age and witness what is happening in the small towns, the large cities and the families I pass through, maybe, I’m perennially searching for someone to save us.
Enter Wally and Juanita Nelson: Civil rights activists, tax-resisters, pacifists, humanists and resident Western Mass heroes. They were mavericks from a different era, well known to some and a novelty to others. Still, most people having lived in and about the Deerfield area know something of the intrepid couple and their history. For example, of their participating in civil rights actions like challenging racists by sitting in each car of a Jim Crow train as Juanita did when she was only sixteen years old. It was 1939. Or becoming partners and members of Peacemakers, as both Nelsons did in 1948. The Peacemakers was a group of American pacifists that advocated nonviolent resistance in the support of peace. It was at that time that the Nelsons become war tax resisters.While researching, I read or listened to one person after the other tell me triumphant tales of the Nelsons and their unceasing efforts to effect positive change the world. I found my mind wandering to my “what if place”. It’s the place I reserve for big dreams, big possibilities and big hopes. I found myself wondering: What if Wally and Juanita Nelson were alive today? What would they think of Trump’s America? What would they do about it?
Juanita was a poet, homesteader and journalist, (In Cleveland, Ohio, in the midst of World War II, Juanita was hired to write for a weekly newspaper: “The best thing that ever happened to me was being a reporter,” Juanita recalls while being interviewed by First Person Oral History. “…that’s where I met Wally—how I met Wally—who became my life partner. He was in prison, in jail at the time, in the Cuyahoga County Jail because he was a conscientious objector; that is, he would not go to war....”) Her beloved Wally was a “confrontational pacifist” whocontinued to walk his talk long after he was released from prison after serving three years for refusing to participate in World War ll activities. And as humanists, the Nelsons recognized later, after working arduously to support The Civil Rights Movement since its inception, that the problems people of color faced was less about their skin and more about the large divide between people who were economically stable and people who were in economic hardship.
Long-time friend Ellie Kastanopolous, who had known and worked alongside the Nelsons since the late 90’s answered a rarely asked questions about the Nelsons: What about racism? And could we learn anything from the Nelsons as to how we might survive what America has become? Ellie began by offering: “I have withdrawn from watching or listening to the news for the last four or five years so I can’t say much about the state of our country other than the gossip I get. But I can say that Juanita wouldn’t have much to say about it or President Trump’s America either. She gave up being political.” When I asked Ellie about Wally’s experience as a share cropper, the legacy of Slavery both he and Juanita witnessed and how they felt about white people… more specifically: Were they at all racists? Ellie answered: “Absolutely 1000% not. Both Juanita and Wally were intensely involved in the early days of the Civil Rights Movement. They did amazing stuff and worked there hearts out. But they came to the point within that time of realizing the issues weren’t black or white, they were ‘haves and have nots’. So they started to pull back, step away.” Their focus became more centered on what they could do themselves and in 1974 the Nelsons moved to Woolman Hill in Deerfield, Massachusetts, where they started an organic vegetable farm and helped organize the Greenfield Farmer Market. In 1975 they encouraged the organization of the Pioneer Valley Tax Resisters.
As Wally himself said: “I guess a long time ago I got it out of my head I was going to save the world. So, I act to save Willy and his integrity. I would hope that other people would be inspired to do what they ought to do.”
Dear Mom & Dad:
In English class today the teacher gave this assignment: Write a letter to someone, who is not a peer (a friend) and try to persuade him/her to think about something in a different way. The student was to choose an issue that he felt greatly impacted his life and one that he was willing to take a risk over.
I chose to write to you about how you appear on Facebook to your “Friends”. I’m apologizing in advance. As the well- known, Catholic-writer Flannery O’Connor once said: “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”
In case you haven’t realized it yet, Facebook is really more than what you think it is: It is not just a way to “creep” others or to rant or to reconnect with old friends. Facebook is both a window into the soul of another and a mirror that reflects who we are back at us. Unfortunately, Mom & Dad, if you looked in the Facebook mirror you probably wouldn’t like what you saw—if you could see yourself clearly at all.
Your Facebook posts following this 2016 Election have shown a side of you that is puzzling; your memes and comments have been insignificant, irrelevant...insidious. Invasive. And I am thinking that maybe you are unaware that your activity has caused division, defines racism and portrays you as being unknowing, unjust, and unkind.
There are way too many examples for me to site here, so I suggest you take a look for yourself.
There is a saying: Parents are a child’s first teacher. What I am saying: The teaching never stops—not ever.
Your Child’s English Teacher
Note: This blog was inspired by a wonderful man and parishioner of Sacred Heart Parish, Karl K., who has taught me a thing or two about discouraging anger and not promoting hate. Thank you Karl!
This week from President-Elect Trump:
“The dishonest media likes saying that I am in agreement
with Julian Assange (concerning Russian hacks) — wrong.
I simply state what he states, it is for the people
to make up their own minds as to the truth.
The media lies to make it look like I am against
‘Intelligence’ when in fact I am a big fan!” (The NYT/1-6-2017)
Trump discussing truth troubles me. And I am left wondering: What happens when liars speak of truth? Is it like a flamingo describing life below zero? Is it like a stone telling what it is like to float?
We live in a society that is truth-blind, the way men are color-blind. We live in a time where people’s sensibilities around the concept of truth have grossly deteriorated, show no sign of improving, and we have elected as president, a man who has no right to hold the five letter word in his mouth.
What is “truth”? In Roman mythology she was a goddess named Veritas. In the Bible, Its name is Jesus. To Plato, there was nothing so delightful than truth to the ear or on the tongue. But that was another time—another reality.
I think of the famed Twilight Zone episode, Time Enough at Last, when I imagine what it will be like when we, finally, stop lying to each other. I see men and women walking around inside a sepia landscape, seeking salvation in the rubble of a ruined world, drained of color…drained of truth.
For me, truth, ought to be an inalienable right, as being created equal or possessing the right to be happy or free is. But then again, truthfully, without an ability to identify, recognize or value truth, these inalienable rights: equality, happiness and freedom, ultimately, will cease to exist anyway; the way we would cease to exist if God stopped thinking us into being.
A life without truth is disturbing and makes one feel unsafe, un-tethered and under-valued. Just ask a child of an alcoholic. Listen to the personal testimony in “The Rooms” where people hold onto The Big Book the way a man drowning grasps a life jacket. The most significant damage caused by living in an alcoholic home, is that the measure of what is true-- develops out of whack. And life without being able to gage what is true is a life of doubt, anxiety and instability.
Is that what we want the norm to be?
The day after Thanksgiving, traditionally, launches the beginning of the Christmas season. And as we know, not much changes year to year. We’ve been at this a long time. We know when to expect visits from The Grinch, Rudolph and Frosty the Snow Man. We know the point of the Hallmark movies, that are so pure and sweet we can hardly recognize ourselves in the characters. Still we watch them, in a sugar coma, anyway. We know that they canceled the Yule Log, due to ratings. And, we know we probably won’t get what we really wanted for Christmas.
Christmas Eve arrives before we know it or are ready for it, and we find ourselves secretly hoping that one thing in our lives will be different Christmas morning. It’s the kid in us … we just can’t help ourselves. Then that precious dawn awakens the day and for many of us, we’re still the same old actors in same old comedy or worse yet…the same old tragedy. And gifts that cost too much and are too numerous are unwrapped; meals are eaten until bellies are bloated, and friends and family bid farewell, and so it goes…until next year.
Some ask: "What's the point?"
Others say: "Something is missing...."
...And they're both right!
I was thinking about Christmas and how, if you are not a Jesus believer, what’s it all mean? And if you do believe in Jesus: What’s it all mean?
I am here to tell you that if you find yourself worn out 10 days into the Christmas season, if you have lost your enthusiasm for gift giving or haven’t anything to say in your Christmas cards … today is the day to begin to do something different: Shock yourself back into life. Take a chance, don't be afraid, force yourself into being comfortable with being uncomfortable.
What am I suggesting that is that you give until it hurts. Truly give of yourself this Christmas Season, so that you are actually doing without, and see what manifests itself. These 33 days until Christmas often amount to very little if you are unable to focus on the message: Put yourself last, and the last ahead of yourself.
From Luke 21:1-4: Jesus, "looking up, saw rich people putting their offerings into the treasury; and noticed a poverty-stricken widow putting in two small coins, and he said, ‘I tell you truly, this poor widow has put in more than any of them; for these have all put in money they could spare, but she in her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”
The message applies to all-- Christians and non-Christians! Ask yourself: Who do I most resemble? The rich people or the poor widow?
Making a sacrifice does more than just help the other guy. Sacrificing yourself, in order to give to another, builds empathy, sympathy and compassion. It makes you feel it. It sensitizes you. By offering that to which you are really attached, that to which you really enjoy, not only helps those in need, but also helps you-- and a hundred times more. It gives you a point of reference. It enables you to realize how so many people actually live. Sacrifice gives you clarity. It makes you real. It opens up the neuro-pathways that enable you to think in a different way. And when your thought processes change, your patterns of behavior change, and ultimately, your life changes. It begins to have a point. It starts to have meaning, for it takes on a new meaning.
This Christmas Season, GIVE! Sacrifice until it changes your life.
The morning after a life altering event often becomes a crossroad in one’s life. Something-- life changing-- has taken place and a new dawn forces one to note: “I am not the same.” And to ask: “Now what?”
The morning of November 18th, 2016 became just that type of morning for many, following an occasion where The Holy Spirit was invited to make a guest appearance at our inaugural Discernment Gathering of Pastoral Council Leaders. Nothing like this had happened here at the parish before. This was a big day; a day that we, in attendance, would not soon forget. And it would become a day that I wish every member of our Church might have experienced, for it was in coming together in this manner of prayer, as the Body of Christ, that we fully committed ourselves to the work that Christ, as His disciples, had commissioned us to do.
Twenty-three people met in our Church the evening of November 17th and to me, the scene was a familiar one, recalling something of what must have taken place in the Upper Room the day, “Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James” had gathered.
During the discernment process songs of praise were sung, Letters from Paul to the Corinthians and to the Romans were shared, and God was with us! As I sat with these disciples of Christ, I observed our pastor leading his faithful people in mission and I thought: How similar people become when they have the desire to work for Jesus. Then I recalled a comforting passage from Acts 1:12: “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer….”
The morning after the discernment gathering, questions from curious and faithful Church goers filled my email account: “Well, what happened? What was it like? Can you tell me more about the meeting?” My answer: “We gathered in prayer and waited for The Holy Spirit to come…. And he did.” Members of the Discernment group, most interested in a seat on the council, five in total, spoke with the Grace of God on their tongues, describing how God had done great things with them. The audience listened in admiration and with gratitude. We learned so much about each other. We grew our love for each other. For the first time, since I have been president of the Pastoral Council, we were One Body, all with one accord.
I discerned more that night than I had imagined from this time in prayer with the Holy Spirit and my faithful parishioners: Mainly, that prayer is an equalizer; that working for Jesus gives one dignity, purpose and a reason for being; and finally… that I am where I belong.
“Today, I invite you to turn your hearts to a very rampant
and widespread abuse among priests – homily abuse. Yes,
abuse of the kindness of the people who are forced to listen
to long, winding, repetitious, boring, unorganized, unprepared,
mumbled homilies. In jest, but certainly with some truth,
the people say our homilies are one of the obligatory scourges
that they must go through every Sunday.”
This is a direct quote from the homily of Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop
Socrates Villegas given April 2nd 2015.
In the end the message from the Archbishop is clear: “Stop the homily abuse!”
Faithful Catholics know what makes a bad homily. We have sat through enough of them in our lifetimes. Often we are asked or rather, urged, to be more understanding of less eloquent priests. Now, I can’t be sure why our clergy doesn’t understand, as Archbishop Villegas reminds us that: “Homily abuse can harm souls.” What I can say is this: Good homilists are made, not born.
Pope Francis, himself, considers the homily "the touchstone for judging a pastor’s closeness and ability to communicate to his people."
We, in my small, rural parish are fortunate in that we have excellent homilist in our pastor.
The question that begs to be asked is: What makes him different?
After all, the same Gospel is available to every priest, in every corner of the world-- each Sunday. The same “Cliff Notes” for priests to draw upon are available to anyone who needs back-up. So, how was the homilist in our pastor made?
With the Pope’s words in mind, I set out to discover what enables a priest to write a “homily that can actually be an intense and happy experience of the Spirit, a consoling encounter with God’s word, a constant source of renewal and growth," as the Pope put it. Here is what I discovered:
Prayer: A good homilist spends a great deal of time in prayer. He prays unceasingly. He prays when he can’t sleep, he prays when he is driving to appointments, he prays late at night in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
Study: A good homilist spends a lot of his free time devouring Catholic periodicals, newspapers and magazines. He makes himself familiar with an inexhaustible catalogue of Catholic writings (available in print and on line) that includes everything from the Vatican Library (which is in the process of digitizing its collection of manuscripts) to the current books published by professors of biblical theology and renowned Catholic lecturers.
Reflection: A good homilist observes his people. He listens carefully allowing them an opportunity to be themselves. He is not quick to respond, carelessly, when involved in an encounter, but instead holds back, allowing himself time to ponder the variables and subtle nuances of each person who engages him. Later, he works in collaboration with The Word...and with the Holy Spirit by his side, he recalls what his people have taught him as he prepares and delivers his homily.
In, the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis wrote: "We know that the faithful attach great importance to it, and that both they and their ordained ministers suffer because of homilies: the laity from having to listen to them and the clergy from having to preach them! It is sad that this is the case."
If you are cursed with a clergyman who is guilty of homily pollution, do your parish and yourself a favor and send him this. You will be glad you did!
There has been a great deal of talk about fear in the last 48 hours following the outcome of this 2016 Presidential Election Tuesday.
I say this: I am not afraid. I am angry. I am angry and disappointed with my fellow Disciples of Christ, fellow Catholics, for actively voting Donald Trump into office. I am angry with myself, and disappointed for not doing enough to stop Trump from being elected President of The United States of America.
Because... I surely was equipped to have campaigned against him by using what I would call Political Apologetics, an attempt to offer reasoned arguments or writing in justification of a theory that would convince Trump supporters to open their hearts to conversion.
In the months prior to November 8th, I did about 10% of the work that I could have done...and most of it was lip service. Why was I not afraid, in the months leading up to the election, frightened enough, to focus my attention on what Jesus would have done to denounce and thwart this inherent evil? Certainly, the antidote to the Trump epidemic may be found in Jesus' teachings; so, why was I not motivated to find it?
I tell myself: Yes. Curse the darkness. But curse yourself more for not lighting a candle!
There is talk of a peaceful truce around the presidential election results. After all, what one Faithful woman I know expressed was: What is done is done. What can you do?
She could not be more wrong! Acceptance, in this instance...a peaceful truce, would mean being in agreement with what has happened during this election process, and we must never be apathetic enough, worn out enough or fed up enough to tolerate what goes against Christ's teachings. Not ever.
We all-- not just Catholics- are expected, to love God with all we have and to love our neighbor as ourselves. If Christians who voted for Donald Trump were unable to see how Trump's rhetoric opposes Christ's teachings, then they should not call themselves faithful Catholic or Christian. It's maddening.
Think of it this way: At least if Americans who felt compelled to vote for Trump had stayed home because they could not have voted in good conscience for Hillary Clinton, there would be no blood on their hands. Whose blood, you might ask? The blood of Lady Liberty, who represents freedom from tyranny and oppression.
And, if all of us, had Evangelized as Christ called his disciples to do we would have heard His voice clearly in this dark night: "Be not afraid...I am with you always."
A poet friend that I respect posted a Charles Bukowski poem, alerting her friends on Facebook to the fact that: "it was her favorite Bukowski poem of all time."
Because its title: No Help For That immediately set the tone of the poem for me, I hesitated to tune into the poem, the way one hesitates before stepping off into oncoming traffic at a busy intersection's crosswalk. I knew where the alcoholic Bukowski was going, because I'm familiar with the vacant heart of an addict. I decided: I wasn't going there, not today; not with the restlessness and dissatisfaction, I myself, was already feeling. I waited till the next day to retrieve the poem and read:
There is a place in the heart that
will never be filled
and even during the
the greatest times
we will know it
we will know it
there is a place in the heart that
will never be filled
we will wait
in that space.
I've known that kind of emptiness, a feeling that has a way of loitering around inside oneself, for so long, it becomes personified, taking on an uncanny resemblance to self, then clinging to one , much the way a shadow does.
My friend's Facebook page blew up with responses! Many liked the poem--giving it a thumbs up, some loved the poem tagging it with the symbol of a heart. ( We live in a sad age where words have lost their power, as modernity prefers to "sign" rather than speak or write.) All were, no doubt, quite familiar with the despair Bukowski wrote of and yet none seemed confident of the means to which they might rid themselves of the inhospitable feeling. It seemed as though they recognized the address of their own untenanted heart, but prefer to keep watch at its threshold rather than do something about it.
I offered the prescription that none-the-less helped that which ailed me and wrote: "I filled that space with God and He changed my life. For much of the time, I feel better now. And I'm a better person, a better writer... a better poet."
I got a variety of responses to my post, none more telling than this:
"Honestly, pressing religion on people is highly unappealing
and does nothing but reinforce the unpleasant feeling that
if I don't accept your opinion you will only persist. Which
is not the point of this conversation at all. You gain nothing
by quoting the bible to atheists other than driving me to not
want to enter conversation with you at all."
Our atheist friend's response was to my offer of: "This will work for anyone who
honestly gives it a try: 'Do not be anxious about anything, but
in every thing, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present
your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all
understanding, will guard you.' (Phillipians4:6)"
Always, I am looking for the meaning behind things. I watch how people behave and ask: Why? I interpret dreams. I record parts of conversations in my mind and then replay the sound bites, looking for clues. I study the words people use... holding them up to the light...turning them over and over.
There weren't many clues offered in that thread about the Bukowski poem, because atheists are locked inside the place in the heart that the pseudo-Beat poet describes; it is a kind of self-imprisonment that they relish. And God help anyone who offers them a key.
When I get to Heaven I'm not going to ask God why bad things happen to good people; I'm not going to ask Him why there exists such a gross imbalance of the distribution of wealth on the planet; I’m not going to ask Him why I never hit on the lottery ticket I bought daily, despite my promise to allocate my winnings to The Catholic Church, The Albany City Mission, and the domestic violence group that assisted me 25 years ago this month.
No. The question I have for God is this: What the heck is wrong with people?
I mean…why do we, as a society, suffer from perennial amnesia? Why have we forgotten how to behave well? Why have we disregarded so much of what our grandparents and parents worked so hard to teach us? Why do so many care so little about honoring and burying the dead these days?
Last week, a good soul left this planet: a man whom everyone liked very much, a man whose vocation was actually that of burying the dead. He spent nearly two decades witnessing and carrying other people's grief in our little town's funeral home. He spent countless days and nights attending to Death and all of its demands. He kept watch far into the night after the deceased's friends and family had returned to their clean, well lit homes, comforted by the knowledge that the person they loved and lost was not going to be alone that night. This man carried bodies out of empty houses, dug graves, placed flowers on altars and in cemeteries, and always did so as if he had had the most important job in world! His life was indeed a daily "corporal work of mercy" and yet I am sad to say, little mercy was returned to him in kind. There was hardly a bouquet of flowers at his coffin.
This gave me pause. It caused me to think about tradition and ritual, and how beauty, even in death, is in the details. We as Catholics are called to bury the dead. We are called to take the time, to stop whatever we are doing for ourselves, and acknowledge a person's passing, honor his memory and make certain that he is not just left alone ... abandoned like an old tire on the side of the road as we speed by on our way to our next appointment, or to the shopping mall.
The wake-up call for me around the passing of this one man, whom I hardly knew, was this: One can’t even rely on who attends your funeral as a measure of the good you did in the world. Well, at least a few recognized the service this man provided to so many ... the mercy he showed so many. And this is just to say: “Danny … you are not forgotten. Thank you, and I hope you liked the flowers.”
In search of what a travel agent assured her was paradise, a woman I knew made a pilgrimage to Bali. When she returned she commented: “The thing that struck me most was the way the natives prayed to their gods throughout the day. They would stop whatever they were doing…mid-morning…late afternoon…evening… to make some small gesture of faith. They would light a candle, braid flowers into a crown and adorn a statue...sing a prayer...." She sighed: "We don't do that here."
I listened intently, imagining what she described. I could see paradise with my mind’s eye and I recognized its inhabitants: Child-like, trusting, uncomplicated men and women.
I mused: We don't do it as much; some don't do it at all...this thing called prayer. This activity called worship. But then again, the United States is far too sophisticated, too technologically advanced, too distracted by celebrity lifestyles, sports, or our phones to see the value in being grateful to a power outside of this world.
Pray to whom…for what? Is what most people would say if asked: Do you stop and pray during the day? Or for that matter, do you pray at all?
I believe one reason why prayer is neglected is because people tend to think they are more “self-reliant” than they should. People convince themselves that they are their own god. They are the master of their own destiny. They are who they are and what they have become—they did it all on their own. So why should they be thankful? Unless, of course, they have a bad run of luck… then the first thing they do is complain about what God hasn’t done for them or has done to them.
Ronald Rolheiser, a specialist in the fields of spirituality and systematic theology wrote in his book Sacred Fire:
Prayer, as it is understood in all its best traditions, Christian
and other, is meant to do two things for us, both at the same
time: prayer is meant to connect us to divine energy, even
as it makes us aware that this energy is not our own, that it
comes from elsewhere, and that we may never identify with it.
Authentic prayer, in effect, fills us with divine energy and tells
us at the same time that this energy is not our own, that it works
through us, but that it is not us. To be healthy, we need both: if we
lose connection to divine energy, we drain of energy, depress,
and feel empty. Conversely, if we let divine energy flow into us
but identify with it, somehow thinking that it is our own, we
become grandiose, inflated with self-importance and arrogance,
and become selfish and destructive. (Pg.171)
Sound familiar? This is the reason why…we don’t do it (pray) here. And while the woman who shared her experience of paradise with me might not have recognized what she was witnessing, she did, on an intuitive level, understand that too much goes missing (paradise) in a world without God.
God nudged, I ignored.
He moved toward me
I took a detour.
I cut my ears off.
I would hate, if I gave in.
I would die, if I gave up.
He reached out
to bring me to Him
I set to spinning
like a leaf falling
I'm a gyro--
I'm a Whirling Dervish.
He sent you
and I surrendered
to His silence--
to the "I am"
that is in everything
around me and is me.
“Every breath you take and every move you make every bond you break, ever step you take …every word you say. . . every game you play...” either enriches your faith or it does not.
As Catholics, we are called to make choices so that we are in a favorable position to meet Christ and to have Christ meet us. Anything less than that is just a game one plays called …spirituality. It is the process through which we experience Christ: prayer, study, generosity and evangelization that allow us to encounter Him. There are no short cuts.
I’ve playfully borrowed the words from the popular love song written by the Catholic raised musician, Sting, to focus on just how intentional Catholicism really is and needs to remain.
Ours is a purpose-filled faith. There is a reason for everything we are asked to do. And we must trust in that premise. Catholic traditions and practices reinforce our belief in God because they keep the quest for holiness and God foremost on our minds. These rituals and Catholic ways soften our hardened hearts to Christ’s message; they enable us to exercise (literally, as though working a muscle) our Faith. They ultimately fortify the very foundation of the Church and our own belief system. So that is why we are instructed to do what we do.
That being said, if we are honest and look around, we can see what happens when people choose to disregard traditional Catholic practices (or teachings) so that they can have it their way. The problem with the I want it my way Catholic, is that by not acknowledging the vital connection between action and faith the Body of Christ as Church is weakened. It is not enough to say we believe…we must act like we believe. We must invest ourselves in our faith in order to meet Christ where He is. We must sometimes give up what we want for the greater good and that is to fervently become a witness to Christ's real presence in our lives.
Again, ours is a purpose –filled faith and it starts with our baptism. The choice a parent makes to baptize a child and raise that child as a faithful Catholic is not one to be entered into lightly. The ultimate goal of a parent is to provide the child with every opportunity to grow in holiness.
So, I have to wonder, what sense does it make for parents to give their children bizarre, unchristian names like Autumn or Pebbles at the time of Baptism. How do these types of names share a family’s commitment to the Church teachings? The Apostles Creed, a faithful summary and ancient baptismal symbol of the Church of Rome, states clearly that we: “...believe in the communion of saints….” (From the Catechism of the Catholic Church; 194.)
Of course parents have the opportunity to choose any name they like, since the 1983 Code of Canon Law changed the rules. Prior to 1983 a newly baptized baby was offered the gift of a Christian name. For sixty-six years one was given a Christian name at baptism to mark, as it happened in the Bible, a change in one’s life...from Abram to Abraham...from Saul to Paul. These men acquired a new name, just as the newly baptized are given a name to signify a new life in Christ Jesus, a new mission.
Now, the only requirement for choosing a baptismal name is that the pastor makes certain that the child’s name is not “foreign to a Christian mentality.”
My question is: How are these unchristian names helpful? Remember saints are not born, they are made. How are these parents truly acting like they believe when they ignore Communion of Saints?
Once upon a time, a common practice when naming a baby was to choose a meaningful name, a name that passed on a noble legacy, a name a child could grow into and strive to become the definition of. Children were give strong names…the name of a person who was a good and just and admired. And so if you were baptized after 1917 you were given a saints’ name with the intention that it would be your guiding light. How often I remember hearing proud Catholic children sharing the abbreviated biography of the saint their mother chose to name them after!
I myself have the middle name of Frances. I never related to the either St. Frances of Rome or St. Frances Cabrini, albeit they were remarkable women. I was more of a tomboy and wanted to be akin to their male counterpart. So instead, I chose to misspell my baptismal name as a young girl; I ignored any connection to the feminine saint I was assigned and identified my patron saint as the extraordinary St. Francis of Assisi. As child, the more I read about the saint that prayed with the birds and animals, who called the Sun brother and the Moon sister, who wrote the first Italian poem, the more curious I became-- until my appetite for the details of this Jesus-like character’s life sent me in search of him. I knew that if I could only resemble something of who he was I would be in good shape. We all need role models. I found St. Francis and his influence in my life to be a gift. And that is the whole reason to introduce a saint into a child’s life at baptism.
Think of this...every time he or she signs her full name on a document…Ellen Monica…August Paul… God is made present through that saint’s witness of His love.
Fr. James Martin, Jesuit priest and associated editor of America magazine writes: “…the saints of the Catholic Church are intimate companions. They pray for me, offer me comfort, give me examples of discipleship, and help me along the way.”(My Life with the Saints. Loyola Press,2006)
Author Rick Riordan reminds us: “Names have power. Names have power.”
"WE aLL LIVE WITH THE OBJECTIVE OF BEING HAPPY; OUR LIVES ARE ALL DIFFERENT AND YET THE SAME..." ANNE FRANK
If I were Hermine Santruschitz (15 February 1909- 11 January 2010), aka Miep Gies (pronounced 'mip 'xis ), aka one of the Dutch citizens who hid Anne Frank... I would be, forever, a hero.
If I were to give up my comfortable life to work with and for the poor and the homeless, again, I would be considered saintly. So why then, when I try to care for someone's spiritual needs, am I not given the same consideration?
Why when someone is suffering from the malady of disbelief and I try to share the antidote that saved my life. . . am I, instead, humored, somewhat ignored, barely tolerated and in some cases treated with hostility? Why won't people accept the truth? It was not my personal strength, fortitude or resilience that brought me here, but instead my trust in God. After all, I have been the same person all along--and my life was a train wreck. If it were within my ability to live well, I would have been living well all these years. If I had realized that "sin" would cause my "train's derailment" and had every time, I would have made different choices. I am not stupid and appreciate pain avoidance. I am older now and understand cause and effect. I also understand that life doesn't allow you to put it in reverse, one can't travel back to the beginning and take the trip again. What is done is done. But honestly, every problem I have ever had was due to the Gospel not being lived. And that's the truth. And that is the lesson I want to share. Trust in God's love and live His teachings. But it is difficult to share this message.
My good friend does not believe in God. (I did not know this until recently.) We have been friends for over 20 years. I love her. All these years we avoided the subject of God, as though He were a hundred pound elephant in the room. I just thought it was a something she preferred not to speak about. I guess I just assumed that she had a "higher power" and that it just wasn't the same as mine. Unfortunately, she is God-less and for me this is as big a crisis as someone whose life is being threatened.
Having a dialogue with someone you love and who loves you should be an easy thing, regardless of the subject. But this is often not the case with people who do not believe in God. Try sharing all that God has done for you with someone who can only spell His name. It is impossible. God-less people have no reference point, their hearts are sadly hardened to His message and because they do not understand the experience of God, they get angry. Fear is fueled by lack of understanding. Fear fuels anger. "Replace fear with Faith," a half-paralyzed man once told me. Replace fear with Faith.
I watch my friend pace around the island in her kitchen preparing our supper while she asks me pointed questions she thinks she knows the answers to. Questions intended to make me realize my folly. All the while, I really only want to say the words that Jesus himself said to the Samaritan woman: If you knew the gift of God....
I wonder what keeps good people from believing in God? I wonder why those same people get so angry when they hear His name mentioned? This troubles me greatly because God is beauty and God is love and God only wants what is good and yet He is too often given a bad rap, misunderstood and abused.
My friend knows the difficult and dangerous life I have lived. She is fully aware of who I might have become if I had not chosen to follow Church teachings and I had not sought God's will in my life. So why then will she not connect the dots? Why does she refuse to accept a God that, if invited in could transform her life, as He has transformed mine? Why am I so different? And what makes her think she is so unlike me?
I cannot answer these questions. And neither can she-- satisfactorily . So I will do what I do most often these days. . . I will continue to pray.
Each morning I wake with the words that Jesus taught us on my lips and a plea to His Mother, Mary, in the form of a prayer. This has become my habit and the words of these prayers race around inside my head until they escape through the barrier of my teeth and out into the quietude of my bedroom. I pray, repeatedly, until I am calm enough to focus on the words of Blessed Mother Theresa: “God does not require that we be successful, only that we be faithful.” With this in mind… I am ready to start my day.
The soon to be Saint's words are a soothing balm for what ails me. Because, according to the world’s standards, I have not been successful at anything. So I am grateful that she has given me permission to erase the voice inside my head that insists: I need to be successful or I am nothing. I am also filled with gratitude for the grace and wisdom to have finally realized that, surely, it is far easier to be faithful in this life, than it is to be successful.
This realization, came in the form of God’s mercy, because I chose to avail myself to Him and He has been faithful to me in return. I tell myself and others: All I need to do is to just keep showing up: Take the time to pray, make the time to attend Church Liturgies, attend Mass as often as possible. I have discovered that if I just place myself in proximity to God…He will do the rest.
Henri Nouwen, a Dutch Catholic priest, professor, writer and theologian wrote: “Let us remind one another that what brings us true joy is not "successfulness", but fruitfulness”. He assures us that: “There is a great difference between "successfulness" and fruitfulness.” He tells us that it is the processes through which we experience fruitfulness, that enriches our lives and brings us joy. It is not the harvesting of the fruit that is most significant, but all that happens to us before that point-- as we learn to be self-less and cooperate with one other.
Being fruitful, instead of being successful, is not an easy concept for many of us to embrace. We have been taught, from the time we were old enough to identify the shape of a star, to desire one… either pasted at the top of our paper or on our foreheads. We learn at an early age that we must succeed in the things we do or we are not considered valuable. Few remind us that “the meek shall inherit the earth” or that “the pure of spirit are blessed”. Instead, every effort is made to convince us that we want to be Kim Kardashian or her male counterpart. To say that you wanted to emulate “the meek” or “pure of spirit”, in our secular world, would cause many an eye role or a chuckle. But that is exactly the path that I have chosen to take. I no longer wake up lamenting my failures, but am grateful for the "emptying out" of the false notions that kept me from being fruitful.
On this, Good Friday, I think of Jesus and how His being faithful changed the history of the world. Never was there a man who appeared to be less successful. “The Son of Man had no place even to lay his head”. (Luke 9:58) Jesus had nothing but the clothes on his back: no impressive job, no wife, no children, but He had Faith and he knew how to be faithful. Today, we are benefactors of The Son Man’s inheritance.