LET IT aLL sTART hERE
For Catholics who care...
Last night, in a dream, I was in Rome where I met Pope Francis.
He is a loving, quite endearing, very hopeful man . He spoke to me in the dream and asked if I would do something for him. I thought as I returned his gaze: How could I refuse you?
Dreams, in the Christian tradition, are considered a "ever-present call to holiness and wholeness, as an invitation to relate to God and to our deepest inner self, and as a gift to the individual and the community." (Louis M. Savary, "Dreams And Spiritual Growth," Paulist Press. 1984.)
With that in mind, I am certain that last night's dream was not a coincidence.
I have been working on my own conversion: a daily exercise of prayer, study and receiving the sacraments often and I believe that this Pontificate visitation is apart of my journey.
A very close friend of mine offers this rebuttal whenever I try to discuss my dream or his: "Its just a dream dear...." He gives no credence to an unexpected nocturnal visage. Another good friend reminds me often that: "I am every part of the the dream." I have always disagreed with both of them, believing that dreams are prophetic. After all, hadn't St. Joseph, for example, been instructed by God through a dream? And hadn't Elijah, in today's scriptural reading fallen asleep under a broom tree at which time an angel visited him twice to offer him heavenly intervention? We are told in the handbook, "Dreams and Spiritual Growth" that: In the early Church, many Christians followed their dreams to find God's will and to understand how God was working in their lives. " Why, I wonder then, am I any different?
Abraham Lincoln said: "How much there is in the Bible about dreams! There are, I think, some sixteen chapters in the Old Testament and four or five in the New in which dreams are mentioned: and there are many other passages scattered throughout the book which refer to visions. If we believe the Bible, we must accept the fact that, in the old days, God and his angles came to humans in their sleep and made themselves known in dreams."
(Reported in Lloyd Lewis, Myths after Lincoln (New York: Grossett & Dunlap, 1957)
Clearly, dream work can be a means through which we might share the Joy of the Gospel and is a stunning method of Evangelizing. I am offering this place for you to record, observe and share your dreams. With the help of some of the thirty-five dreamwork tools and techniques found in the Dreams and Spiritual Growth perhaps we can help each other discern God's will.
In the column "dear Padre" a reader complains: Our last pastor gave good homilies, and I got a lot out of them. Our new pastor either tells jokes or talks about what he did during the week. How can I get him to preach better homilies? (Signed: Hungry for the Word)
I think the parishioners at Sacred Heart Parish ( Stamford, NY) are particularly blessed, if not spoiled by the quality of homily they receive every Sunday. Our pastor, Fr. Cambi, spends a great deal of time preparing for the writing of his typical eight minute homily; he knows the power of words and how to make them work for us and he is engaging. I can follow just how he carefully and skillfully uses the day's Scripture reading to direct the listener to a place of reflection. Sadly, not every Catholic has the good fortune of experiencing such a "homilist" and that works against The New Evangelization and individual conversion. If a person is "not getting anything out of " the Liturgy of The Word there is a big problem brewing for The Church, the individual and the priest.
Fr. Rick Potts aka "the dear Padre" tells us: "a homily must artfully draw a listener into questions of the human heart and bring that day's Scripture reading to bear on those questions. In that moment we hear--in faith how hope, love, sacrifice, and belief in God guides us in our life's journey."
Many of my readers at LetItAllStartHere are knowledgeable enough to describe the qualities of a strong homily. They know what they need to get out of that experience. I am asking those same readers to join our movement as we insist that priests do the work and prepare thought provoking homilies. Answer the question: How can a pastor write a better homily? BE NOT AFRAID! Tell us what you have learned through the many years you have participated in The Holy Mass. I can start the ball rolling by offering this from Thomas Merton: " We don't need so much to talk about God but to allow people to feel how God lives within us, that's our work." This is the work of the priest: To get his people to feel something.
Before my alarm clock pours the sound of a trickling forest stream into my bedroom; before I have kicked back the bed sheets and dropped my feet to the floor; before I have read any texts or emails or checked
any phone messages or have spoken to another soul… dread often makes a guest appearance.
This is what the panic feels like: It is as if I have casually stepped off a curb,and suddenly looked up from my reverie just as speeding car is bearing down on me! Does this sound familiar? And, at such times, it is only by the grace of God we have survived. The feelings stay with us. The adrenaline rush is breath-taking and, too
often, crippling. How can I experience this feeling first thing in the morning without ever having left the assumed safety of my bed? What summons this panic that can paralyze? And what can be done to assuage the panic?
I have tried “self-medicating”: using people, work and exercise a panacea. Also, I have sought out therapeutic methods of psychoanalysis and prescriptive medication. Today, following such attempts for relief-- which failed or ran their course--I chose to pray.
I have several lines from scripture that I repeat as a mantra while praying: “Be Not Afraid” is one of them.
God instructs us seven times in the Bible to “be not afraid”; 43 times to “fear not” and eight times to “have no fear". I finally got the message: Christ wants me to give my fear to Him so He might relieve me of it. I think He puts it inside His most Sacred Heart where His Love extinguishes the "smoldering worm".
My prayer begins with those three words: “Be not afraid”, then stream lines into “I seek the mercy of God”, only to end with some of the most important words that Jesus gives us:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. “
John 14: 27
I think about what I want and what I want is only Jesus’ particular kind of peace. For me, any other is as meaningless as milk toast. “My peace I give to you….” "My" ...is essential here for the peace that belongs to Jesus, His serenity, His sense of tranquility, His calm is restorative and He offers it freely and abundantly to us.
As I pray these words, I think of what His peace feels like, how it looks, how it sounds. I see Him as a vessel containing the only peace that can heal me and, suddenly, the dread vanishes, and I experience no more panic.
“ Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not
your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
I listen for the words of Jesus as I pray; I hear them...and I am made better.
What Woman Should Be on the $10 Bill?
I’m sure by now most of you know about the facelift our Treasury Department is planning for the $10.00 bill? Treasury Secretary, Jack Lew, recently announced that the “Hamilton” was undergoing “cosmetic surgery” of sorts. The government is seeking public opinion on what woman might be worthy of that prominent portrait. So, why I am focusing on this subject - which is seemingly unrelated to the content of this blog For Catholics who Care? The connection to Our Lord is somewhat subtle, but unmistakable relative to how God reveals His presence in all of our lives….
But, first, my personal choice - without hesitation – would be Our Lady, The Blessed Virgin Mary. Imagine the publicity! Imagine how our Call To The New Evangelization would benefit. Of course, you can also imagine how Treasury Secretary Lew would receive my suggestion. My second choice would be Mother Teresa (and some who took the USA TODAY/Suffolk Poll agreed). Then, something my friend wrote on his FaceBook page reminded me of the grand dame of women who have changed history: Helen Keller!
“Much debate over which woman should
grace the new $10 bill. My choice is Helen
Keller. I believe she is the embodiment of
the spirit of this country. Just look at her
adversity, what she endured and what she
accomplished. Strength, determination and
courage defined her, as well as America.”
Ah, yes, I thought - Helen Keller. And I joined, without hesitation, the Let’s Put Helen Keller on the Face of the new $10 Bill Committee.
After all, Helen Keller was one of our Nation’s strongest women at a time when women weren’t celebrated for their personal strength. She was a pioneer and an icon in so many arenas. It was Helen Keller who became one of the country’s leading anti-racist activists, and who also championed the needs of people with disabilities. And it was Helen Keller who helped found the American Civil Liberties Union. Helen Keller said:
“I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do
everything, but still I can do something. I will
not refuse to do something I can do.”
I was struck by her declaration! Recognizing that it might have come from the lips of Mother Teresa herself! And, what really amped up my campaign efforts to put Helen Keller’s face on the $10 bill was this quote:
"Once I knew only darkness and stillness...my life
was without past or future…but a little word from
the fingers of another fell into my hand that clutched
at emptiness, and my heart leaped to the rapture
How Christ-centered these words sounded to me! I think Helen Keller was certainly a Disciple of Christ, even though she made not have realized it fully. From a letter Helen Keller wrote to Bishop Phillips Brooks we've come to understand that: “She had always known about God, even before she had any words. Even before she could call God anything, she knew God was there. She didn't know what it was. God had no name for her -- nothing had a name for her. She had no concept of a name. But in her darkness and isolation, she knew she was not alone. Someone was with her. She felt God's love. And when she received the gift of language and heard about God, she said she already knew.” (See City-Data.com)
(See collected letters of Phillip Brooks and Helen Keller.)
General Information for The United States Treasury. Call and nominate Helen Keller for the woman on the $10 bill. (202) 622-2000
Fax: (202) 622-6415
To Write to Jack Lew and nominate Helen Keller:
“What does relativism have to do with same sex marriages?” My old friend asked me as we walked together in the yellow light of afternoon.
“It does not recognize anything as definitive. That being said…it allows under the protection of its umbrella… same sex marriages,” I said scooping the soft, sweet green of an avocado out of its leathery shell and onto a spoon. “Relativism gives us a license to do as we damn well please, rewrite the rules… redefine the truth...make a mess of things in the name of our own ego and desires.” I licked my spoon clean and tossed the avocado shell into the tall grass along the trail we walked.
“Who’s truth?” My friend queried, watching me curiously. “Was that good?” he asked through a crooked smile, a smile that said: “You are too weird.”
“Our truths...truths that were once derived directly from reality or were established by logic.” I reached out and plucked the blue, vacant half-shell of a robin’s egg from where it teetered on a raft of birch leaves.
“Don’t play devil’s advocate with me.” I warned. “I love avocado….” I continued: “Anyway, like the baby robin once housed in this empty shell, we are created from the conjoining of one male and one female. And… that was the sole purpose of the robins who coupled and made this egg. ‘Not to satisfy their own ego and/or desires, but to continue the species. So, if we are like birds of the air, and we know we are in that regard, how is it that same sex marriages will create this end result?” I asked as I flipped the paper thin shell of my example over my shoulder to join the remnants of the avocado.
“I am worn out from debating the absurdities we are constantly asked to accept. Most recently the Bruce Jenner fiasco. I am offended by people who will do anything to avoid offending others, even if it means swallowing a lie...even if it means allowing the lie to take on a life of its own. For me, to call a partnership between a man and a man or a woman and a woman, a marriage is as untrue as calling Bruce Jenner a woman named Caitlyn.” This is simply a case of mislabeling.
I turned to face my friend: “When will we have the courage to seek, recognize and accept the truth regardless of how difficult it is? When will we start ...I wonder? When will you? Who will be brave enough to say: I love you. But enough is enough.”
“The world is getting more and more confusing to me and sometimes I find myself wishing I were simply a robin,” I said, as I walked on ahead of my friend.
Who doesn't know someone who is an addict? Who hasn't suffered extreme anxiety and/or depression at some time in their lives? Honestly, I live with all three of these afflictions in one way or the another throughout the day...every day. It was because of these unmanagable difficulties that often had this interior dialogue with myself :
"This situation isn't making me happy. It is all his fault...
no, it is all her fault. I am going to say something --
because something has to change ."
I was always ready to assign blame. Then one day I realized--
while in prayer and with the Holy Spirit's intercession what the truth was: I have never been happy and the common denominator through it all ...is me.
So what have I done with this new found knowledge? What has happened since then? Well this realization seems to have propelled me into deeper and more constant prayer mainly because I am seeking help for a malady I don't know how to fix. So I have prayed until I felt that I am wearing the words of The Our Father around my neck like a talisman. And I have prayed until there was nothing else for me to do but to commit myself to ridding the anxiety and depression I am plagued with-- with more prayer. This is what it took for me to finally "get it" : Unbearable pain, like my hand was being held over an open flame. And then an emptying out of my "self". Now there was room for Jesus to come in and reside and do His work.
I have lived on this planet a long time. In many ways, I have been blessed like a cat with nine lives. I feel more than qualified to say this: Only the Grace of God can resolve addiction; will power is not enough. One must pray and pray unceasingly to petition God for assistance. For me, this has been a really powerful way ask for His much needed Grace to rid oneself of weight of depression.
When we are able to think through situations simply and resist complicating what even a child knows... we are faced with the truth: God wants us happy. God wants us to feel loved and cared for. The devil wants us miserable. He wants us to play the blame game and he wants us, with our bad behaviors, to chase away all those who care for us. The devil wants us to ignore Our God, the God who asked us to be His people...the God who loved us into being. The devil wants us angry and wants us blaming God for not helping. If we isolate ourselves from God who is LOVE, the devil will have us all to himself. I have kept company with devil more than I want to admit. But now I pray till he takes leave of me. I have a choice...I can let evil destroy my joy and peace and ruin my relationship with others or I can turn toward Christ and feel okay.
I often think of Matthew 8:30-37 when I am "crazed" and how Jesus brought deliverance to the possessed men by casting the legion of demons into a herd of pigs.
I am not suggesting this experiment in prayer, minus medication is for everyone but I have committed myself to working hard on living Christ's prescription and I will report back to you on my progress. After all, I had nothing to lose and I have everything to gain.
Once…I was notorious for wearing my heart on my sleeve, now… I wear “my faith” there. This witness to the wonder of being Catholic, my wearing my Catholic on my sleeve, has been beneficial to those around me and much less dangerous to my person. I recognize now that my heart and my faith are much the same animal: They are the vessel that determines my capacity to love.
We are told that people who wear their heart on their sleeve express their emotions freely and openly. Often, they possess little ability to be deceptive, they speak earnestly and honestly about whom they are and what they know. They are extremely childlike in that manner. What good news that has been for me! For Christ tells us the truth: “Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
I started to think about this idea of my wearing my Catholic on my sleeve. What does this clever, little slogan really mean? To me, it means that I openly witness to my concern for my salvation and my attempt to grow closer to Christ every day. It means… that I have committed to do whatever helps in that regard; change/refrain from whatever doesn’t help. It means… I know I am not in this race alone and that I ought to be concerned with the salvation of my sisters and brothers in Christ as well.
I am a big, noisy person. I always have advice and I am not afraid to share my thoughts about anything. I think a lot. I have been known to rumple feathers, get under the skin of many and sometimes say too much. People identify me as that Catholic woman precisely because I wear my heart on my sleeve. I tell everyone I can about my encountering Christ and my increased sense of the supernatural. I know this aggravates some people and yet, only yesterday I thought: I must not stop sharing my Good News, even though it is not always fully appreciated, applauded or preferred. My speaking about Christ to men and women I encounter, for example at the pub-- my witnessing to the glory of the Faith and the beauty of the Church to these folks who perhaps have lost touch with God’s active presence in our midst-- is a great thing for me to do. It very well may be the only chance they had to think about God all day. And a day without God crossing a person’s mind is sad day indeed.
Thomas Merton wrote in his journal on December 7, 1965:
“What is primary? God’s revelation of Himself to me
in Christ and my response in faith.”
I was two years old when Merton composed his powerful prayer, yet his words still resonate with me. With “ears of Faith", I hear the dialogue he had with himself as he scratched 16 words on paper, words that would come to summarize how he was “wagering everything on God’s mercy to him”1. With my “ears of Faith", I can hear Merton even now, as he responded to his first abbot, Dom Frederic Dunne, who asked the newly received novice, Merton: “What is it you seek?” Merton replied: “The Mercy of God….”
Once a person realizes that the Mercy of God is all that is needed, God begins to frequently reveal Himself. His Mercy becomes apparent in all things. I have only just recently learned to recognize this truth. I have only recently begun to pray these words daily: I seek the Mercy of God!
“Seek and ye shall find”…and I did in the following true story, this modern day parable of The Good Samaritan. This is a lesson I know Christ, in His Mercy, is administering to me so that I might respond in faith and share it.
A man had fallen victim to clinical depression as he grew older. The disease stripped him of all joy, of all his interest in
living fully in this world… it robbed him of all his dignity.
He was stripped, beaten by this unseen force, deeply wounded
and left half- dead. This man was a non-practicing,
baptized Catholic. Circumstances, coincidentally, put
him in front of a priest… but the priest was of no help.
The depressed man reached out to his family (and
many of his friends), but they eventually stopped
answering his calls. They would only avoid him.
Even his dog ignored him and passed by him on
the opposite side of the room.
But a “none”2 who came upon him was
moved with compassion at the sight of him.
He answered the depressed man’s call for help
spending hours of his own time listening to the man
speak of his unbearable pain. This same “none”,
in an attempt to administer a healing balm to care for the
depressed man, tried to recall what he had read about a
Catholic’s privilege in attending Mass and receiving the
Eucharist. He reminded the depressed man of God’s
Baptismal promise to him and urged the depressed man
to “trust in Him” and return to the Church so that he might
receive the Body of Christ. “From my understanding…” the
“none” offered: “For a Catholic, it’s all about the
Eucharist. If you believe in God,” the “none” added,
. “Surely, there is help for you there.”
But in his despair the depressed man could only answer:
“I’m not ready for that. I don’t even remember the prayers.
Once again, the “none” assured him that someone was
there at the church who could help him. “Just go.” he said.
Now I ask you this: “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robber’s victim?“ (Luke 10: 36-38)
1 From The Intimate Merton Edited by Patrick Hart and Jonathan
2 “None” is a tag for a person who does not identify with any religion. And yet it is clear that God’s Mercy was most at work in the actions of a man that one would least expect God to work through. It is also clear that God is at work in the life all people, whether they recognize Him or not.
1 From The Intimate Merton Edited by Patrick Hart and Jonathan
I haven't written an essay for this blog in two weeks. Not because I haven't anything Christ related to share, but because I had briefly become disenchanted with this call to The New Evangelization. I'm back now.
Many Catholic folks I know, who claim to love the material at www.letitallstarthere.com, also claim that they don't have the time to visit the blog so that they might read, comment on and share its content. Doing so would make them true evangelizing disciples of Christ. But they don't seem to get that. I can't think of an easier way to evangelize and yet the common excuse is: I've been too busy to get there. These are the same people who attend workshops on The New Evangelization and are committee members with Evangelization Outreach. Go figure.
A non-believing friend of mine asked me this pointed question: What do you want from these people?
My answer: I want them to grow their imagination and their courage.
So...here is an exercise in just that: Imagine your cell phone is ringing. Imagine that on the screen the caller's name reads: Jesus. Are you too busy to answer the phone call? I feel that my well intentioned audience at Let It All Start Here is doing just that. Not answering Jesus' call.
Christ calls us every day. And it is too bad and too sad when we are too busy for Him. I have learned that the way to answer His call is to be primarily preoccupied with Him. Think of Him the way and as often as you would a new, romantic love. Look forward to speaking with Him, to seeing Him, to being with Him. Or think of Him as often and as attentively as a new mother thinks of her newborn baby. If we adopted that sense of knowing Him, we could not help but answer His call.
I urge people to use their imagination to help support their desire to be a Faithful disciple of Christ....
Okay try this: Pretend you are the great painter Caravaggio with a highly developed imagination. With this keen skill you can actually hear Christ's voice... see His kind face... feel His warmth... smell the scent of His robes. You can even imagine that, with His grace, you are Christ in this world for others.... Read the Gospel, know the scenes of His life ...imagine what was really happening. Be preoccupied with Christ Jesus.
Now, why the need for a deeper sense of courage? Because there is a considerable lifestyle change if one is to be a disciple of Christ in this increasing secular world. To be a follower of Christ requires one to experiment with new behaviors and that can make a person VERY uncomfortable.
For example, this newly formed imagination that beckons Christ to you may be as difficult to develop as learning to write beautiful cursive with your none writing hand. One must practice. One must pay close attention to the details of forming the letters. One must not get too busy to do the work. One must imagine the lovely script already formed on the paper. Courage is required to be a witness of Christ in the world. I think that lack of courage keeps most of my readership from sharing their thoughts, concerns, ideas and feelings about their relationship to Christ and His church. Being brave is not a slowly developed personality trait. One can not ease into being brave. It is a quick decision that one makes. In every difficult situation, one is either brave or one is not. Understand that being brave also means being empowered.
It is within everyone's reach with God's grace.
With the New Evangelization movement there has been much use of the words conversion and reversion. But I think of the word aspersion instead. Aspersion, the act of sprinkling water after renewing baptismal promises, applies appropriately to my life of Faith. For baptism has left an indelible spiritual mark of belonging to Christ on my soul. Because of this I have been graced by Him to have the good sense to keep Him close.
However, I must admit I have done with my Faith what I have often done throughout my life regarding my physical well-being…. Like prescribed vitamin bottles, Faith hung around rarely opened. I believe in God. I believe that supplements work, yet I often forgot both of them.
I attended Sunday Mass; I took my occasional multi-vitamin…I thought I was doing enough. Distracted, I never got around to establishing a healthy routine. I clearly understood what was necessary to obtain optimal health, still the bottles of A, D, K & C collected dust on the counter just as my rosary and Bible waited for me on my dresser. They were ornaments that gave me a false sense of well being. False, because when tragedy struck in “losing” my daughter to drugs, I found that only through living my Faith would I survive.
God’s mercy permits the inconceivable to happen…it is never too late with God. There is never irreversible damage, there are just new beginnings. And just as in baptism, through water poured over an upturned face, He restores one’s soul to Newness of Life as soon as we return to have our Faith / our hearts cracked open.
"I'm not a praying minstrel”.
Those were the words of a 93 year old Italian-Catholic friend and fellow parishioner. I was taken aback!
I wondered: This man is one of the most generous supporters of our church? A man whose last "outing" in his old life...was to go to Mass? …And he doesn't pray? Who else would he be but a praying minstrel if he truly believed in his Catholic faith? I am afraid that too many of us settle for the religious “tag” of “Catholic,” and too few of us regularly exercise its privilege.
While visiting this man in a nursing home, the topic of how we converse with God came up. I wanted to talk about his prayer life and he wanted to change the subject. I don't change subjects readily when I want my way and I suggested that he spend some of his time in prayer – rather than sitting, hour upon hour, feeling alone. I think all of these elders of the Catholic faith who live in such facilities should consider banding together, in teams, to pray – collectively - for our world (A world that is a yardstick away from being the next Sodom and Gomorrah). This world has become one that our older generation can’t even recognize anymore; a world that they will be departing from before most of the rest of us. What better use of their time?
I believe that if Catholic senior citizens were to recognize the powers they possess - from a lifetime of being in a relationship with God – and if they would own them, they just might be able to pray this world well. But, alas, that is a whole other topic.
"I'm not a praying minstrel!" he reiterated the next time I visited. I asked if he wanted to pray the rosary with me. He frowned, and pushed my suggestion aside with his thick, arthritic hands; strong hands that had tended to the needs of hundreds of cows on his family's dairy farm for two-thirds of a century. Hands that knew hard work, but hands that never fished; hands that never held the hand of his own offspring. These were hands that rarely found themselves woven together in prayer. Or so he said....
Jesus' disciples only asked Him to teach them one thing - how to pray. I once read: "A learned behavior is easier caught than taught." Jesus understood, and prayed as an example to his followers. Pastor Rick Ezell writes this about Jesus’ prayer life:
1) Jesus believed that prayer works.
2) Praying did not make Jesus passive.
3) Jesus prayed alone.
4) Jesus prayed in community.
5) Jesus prayed before meals.
6) Jesus offered thanks.
7) Jesus prayed before making important decisions.
8) Jesus prayed for his disciples.
My visit yesterday to the nursing home was a sad one. My "would-be" praying minstrel's health has taken a serious turn for the worse. I held his hand to comfort him as he wept at his own predicament. I struggled to find something meaningful to say, or do. Then, it became clear that solace cannot be offered to an aged, stricken, solitary man with a box of chocolate, a bouquet of flowers, or in the promise of future outings once good health returns. None of that matters.
So, I said this: "I love you, and I need you to pray for me. Will you do that? Will you pray for me? I could use some help." I asked him this three times. He agreed. Now, let’s see what happens.
Dear Evelyn: May God bless you in many ways, and especially with peace of mind and heart and joy in your service. I realized I failed to write to you personally after your blog post - I wanted you to know that yes I did immediately recognize Juan by your description AND by the rosary I had noticed around his neck when I served on the Monday evening that week. I noticed it because I know we are not "supposed" to wear rosaries as jewelry, but of course I would not comment. So when I went again last night and he was there but not wearing it. So I asked where is your Rosary? He pointed to a special pocket in the jacket that he was carrying and said reverently, in there. He said "when I shower I have to take it off, so ..." keeping it safe there. I thought you might enjoy this sequel from another perspective. I had never spoken to him before, except to take his tray and ask God to bless him. Now we have a smiling relationship!
All week I have been searching for the notice of my friend Gary G.’s death in the local newspaper. I found that there was no “notice” of him, no obituary. Its absence caused me to pause and wonder: Why? Someone said: He didn’t want anyone to have to spend the money on him....” As if $1.25 a word to write a life, or to acknowledge a soul’s passing, would break anyone. But perhaps my friend didn’t see the value in his own life. There is where the shame of it lies. So I ask myself: How do we live worthy lives?
Obituaries are not unlike resumes. Both are a “summing up” of one’s history. Both try to convince the reader that the person whose name appears in the bold letters is or was “somebody”. So, in a way, a person becomes a product or a thing that is “sold”. Sadly, if the product isn’t or wasn’t useful enough... it is in that same way... discontinued. Not thought of. Not noted.
I have built a lot of resumes in my time. I’m good at constructing a life that “sells”. And yet if I were to die tomorrow, would the notice of my death convince anyone I was worth knowing? I hope someone would spend $55.00 on an "obit" and write the following about me: She was poor in spirit. She was meek. She mourned and was comforted. She hungered and thirst for justice. She was merciful. She was clean of heart. She was a peacemaker. She suffered persecution for justice’ sake. And . . . The kingdom of heaven is hers!
I will miss my friend Gary whom God sent into my life to assist me in living a life of value.
This is a story of Jesus asking me to do something for Him. Then, permitting me His Grace… all that is necessary to answer His call. It is also the story of Juan Pablo – a Salvadoran native, and a veteran of their decade-long Civil War of the 1980s. And it is the story of a string of aqua blue glass beads-- a discarded rosary that found its way to Juan Pablo.
It began on Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. During the reading of Mark's Gospel, the narrator’s voice filled the church, and weighed heavy on my heart:
At noon darkness came over the whole land
until three in the afternoon.
And at three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice,
“Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”
which is translated,
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Some of the bystanders who heard it said,
“Look, he is calling Elijah.”
One of them ran, soaked a sponge with wine, put it
on a reed and gave it to him to drink saying,
“Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to take him down.”
Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.
As we knelt, I said: “If I were there, I would have saved you.” Suddenly, a voice outside me replied: Really… What are you doing to save me now?
I looked up in surprise. I glanced over at the priest on the altar; I half expected that he was in on it, or that he had heard Jesus’ question as well. Then I looked around at the rest of the congregation, but they remained faithfully bent in reverence and prayer. No one else seemed to hear Him!? After mass, I left the church hastily - eager to call a friend about what had happened.
Two days later, I sat home alone reading about the Martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero (Pope Francis had recently declared him a martyr), and how he is due to be beatified in San Salvador on May 23, the day before Pentecost. I was struck by the fact that even outside of Catholicism, Archbishop Romero is honored by other Christian denominations, including the Church of England; that he is one of only ten 20th-Century martyrs to be depicted in statues above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey in London. I hadn’t ever thought much about him, simply because, in our Catholic tradition, there are so many other things to think about!
But that was about to change.
Every Wednesday I travel to The Albany City Mission to work in their kitchen to help feed the homeless. In almost three years, I’ve rarely missed a day. I know the men who loiter there. I know who likes rice, who can’t eat pork, who never smiles, who has fallen off the wagon, who doesn’t buy into The Mission’s mission, and who does.
Enter Juan Pablo.
The massacre that raged on in the small Central American country he called home had left Juan Pablo with a sick spirit, nearly blind, and destined to wander these some 35 years without real family, friends or homeland. Today, Juan Pablo is a pilgrim in a foreign land searching for Christ among us. He lives some days on the streets and some days in a homeless shelter in Albany, NY.
I knew the face of this drunken, little man very well. I have smiled at him; asked him how he was doing? Tried to feed him…. But he barely and rarely responded to me. However, this past Wednesday something was different. As he sat at his table, staring into the mayhem of pre-lunch preparation, I decided to challenge myself to speak to him because I was able I recognized that he is Jesus and Jesus is waiting for me.
I sat next to Juan Pablo, and tried to engage him: I asked him if he were hungry? If he were Native American or Latin (at the time I didn’t know?). If he could see me? For the first time, it became clear to me that Juan Pablo had very poor vision, and that much of the time he must not have even realized I was speaking to him because I stood too far away. Now, I was sitting shoulder to shoulder with him…close enough for him to smell the scent of my perfumed lotion. He turned to me, and and answered my question pointedly: “I am from Central America. I am from El Salvador!” Shocked at the coincidence of my encountering the life of Archbishop Romero only the night before, I asked Juan Pablo if he knew Romero.
“Of course.” He replied. “I am a soldier. He was a great man! We would do anything for him. He brought God to the people wherever he went….”
“You knew him?” I repeated excitedly. Inspired by the undeniable fact that God was with me just then, and had been since Palm Sunday Mass, I felt compelled to give this sad stranger something to hold on to. I went to my coat and found the rosary I had taken from a small wooden "give-away" box at our church. It was one of many that I've collected, and when I lifted it from the box I felt a bit guilty for wanting it so much. I took it anyway, telling myself I would give it to someone who needs it.
The crucifix’s silver patina was rubbed off in places, and some of the glass beads were chipped. Clearly, someone had been praying to Mary for her intercession on these beads for a long time; I had been praying hard on them, and now Juan Pablo could as well. He took the rosary from me as if it were a handful of precious gems, and laughed gleefully to himself. From that moment on, I ceased to exist in his world. Now, it was just Juan Pablo, the rosary, his memories of San Romero, and his feeling that all was right in his world - if only for these few minutes . He turned from me, and kissed the crucifix of the rosary. Then, Juan Pablo hung the strand of glass beads around his soiled neck, and walked away.
I was in a bar tonight on Main Street in Stamford, NY chatting with the regulars, when my friend Don suddenly offered: "If you want to know how to pray...watch Fiddler On The Roof." I looked at him in disbelief. What a simple yet profound statement! I was shocked at how right he was. I remembered the play. I remembered the film. I remembered just how Tevye, the milkman, was in constant dialogue with God. This is how we are instructed to pray so that we might develop the bond we all are so desperately seeking with The Father. I promised Don two things: I would post his words of wisdom at LetItAllStartHere.com before I closed my eyes tonight. And I would make a point to see the film again. I hope you all do as well. Thanks Don!