O Come O Come Emmanuel

Tomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent; the beginning of our preparation for the Christ-Child. Last night, my wife was playing ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ on the piano. That beautiful, haunting and hopeful hymn that has always been part of my life touched my heart again this year.

O come, O come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel; that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear

Lonely exile. These two words keep playing in head. I can’t help but think of the immigrants and asylum seekers that Deb served at our southern border earlier this year. I’m sure many of them felt lonely during their exile. The stories that she has shared of her experience are heart breaking and yet somehow still hopeful. Our hymn, though mournful, reminds us that God is coming to set us free. In our longing and waiting we have hope. These desperate souls, that were welcomed in McAllen, Texas had hope: Hope of a better life; hope of safety; home of a new home. What my wife and the other volunteers offered was kindness and dignity.

Make safe the way that leads on high; And close the path to misery.

I pray that these less fortunate souls have found their respite. I pray that they have continued to be welcomed by strangers and have found HOME. The people that my wife served didn’t want to leave their homelands but had no choice. The violence and persecution they endured was unimaginable. And still they endured. They needed an end to their misery. Hope was all many of them had left.

To us the path of knowledge show; And teach us in her ways to go

It’s easy for me to turn a blind eye to the suffering in our world. I cozy up to my comforts and toss a few coins in the Salvation Army can at my local grocery store. I pray for those less fortunate because I know that there is immense suffering in our world, our nation, our state, our community but I fail to take the time learn the systemic causes of this injustice. I make a few donations and I shed a tear for the atrocities I see on the television or read about in the news but that isn’t enough. During Advent I will recommit myself to knowledge. As someone living with privilege because of my race and gender I must recommit myself to social justice for all.

O come, Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of all humankind; Bid thou our sad divisions cease, And be thyself our Prince of Peace.

The problems in our world can feel overwhelming at times, but the words of this hymn give me hope. During this busy holiday season, when I feel overwrought, I can slow down and listen and re-listen to ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’. Our salvation is at hand. Rejoice! Rejoice! All humankind can be changed. All humankind can find peace. I’m going to begin with me. It may not be easy but most things worth having are not easily obtained. I must fight for justice, pray for wisdom, work for peace, and love beyond measure.

And cheer us by your drawing nigh; disperse the gloomy clouds of night; And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

May you find love, joy, comfort, but mostly peace in this Advent season.

Peace,

Denis

Saints Among Us

On September 8, 1845 a small group of young women from Baden, Germany journeyed to Steinerberg, Switzerland due to government oppression of religious orders. There they formed a community, the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood. The early years were not easy. Ultimately the Sisters were forced to leave Switzerland because of the Swiss government’s hostility towards them. In 1848 they found a home in French Alsace. In 1857 a request for teachers came from Gurtweil, Germany, and so back to Germany they went. Once again, a hostile German government forced the Sisters to seek refuge. This time a group of sisters from the Gurtweil foundation traveled to America. In 1870, nine Sisters arrived in Belle Prairie, Illinois. In 1873 the Sisters temporarily moved to St. Louis, and in 1875 they established the motherhouse in O’Fallon, Missouri.

175 years later, their goal is straightforward. To love God and to be the reconciling presence of Jesus in the communities they serve. Often when I’m feeling spiritually bankrupt, I think of the Sisters and their determination to bring Christ to others. And I know that I am living among saints.

With my Aunts ~ circa 1958

As a Catholic, I know that we are the Church, not the Pope nor the bishops nor the priests but we, the ordinary, everyday, sinful, struggling, prayerful, bored, loving, argumentative, forgiving, messy, mass of humanity. We are the Church. I just occasionally struggle with being part of “We”. Sometimes my prayer life is what I can best describe as anemic. “Hey God, you know what I need, and I’ll try to do better about ‘that thing’ we’ve discussed, and oh by the way, you know what I’m thankful for, too. So, thank you – bla, bla, bla – the end.”

During some of those “desert days”, when I struggle to find God in my life, I am blessed with faithful friends who lift me up and humble me by their love and devotion.

Today in addition to the professed Sisters, a group of lay people known as “Partners in Mission” have joined to help bring peace to our world. Fortunately for me, I have been accepted as a Partner in Mission with the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood. As Partners, we stand in solidarity with the Sisters in their commitment to social justice. Together, we join in prayer and worship. We are offered Spiritual guidance and renewal. In a world full of chaos and uncertainty we find refuge with these women who have devoted themselves to bringing the the love of Jesus to our world.

With my Partners in Mission ~ circa 2019

I’m honored to be a part of this mission. Sometimes it’s as simple as offering a kind word or a friendly smile. Which sounds simple unless I’m carrying too much anger, mistrust or heartache. Sometimes it means being involved in service to others in our community. Which can present its own challenges when I’m feeling particularly lazy or selfish.

Mostly for me it’s just being PRESENT. Giving myself to others with no expectation of anything in return. Listening to stories. Sharing joy. Making memories. Being loved. The best part is that there is no test of worthiness or holiness required – which I would almost certainly fail. No financial obligation or talent is necessary – again I am lacking in both regards.

When I am bereft of enlightenment or clarity or purpose, I am reminded that alone my journey is not easy, but I am never alone. I know that I am being carried along on this journey of love and faith and joy by the Sisters and the other Partners in Mission.

And I am part of “We”.

Peace,

Denis

If you would like to learn more about Partners in Mission, click the link: http://cpps-ofallon.org/partners-in-mission/

I Am Who I Should Be

When I was in high school, I was 6’-2” and weighed 120 lbs. soaking wet. My parents’ friends and some family members would often ask if I played basketball. The assumption was of course that because I was tall and skinny, I should be a natural on the court. The truth was that I had the coordination of a newborn giraffe. Come to think of it, I kind of looked like a newborn giraffe. I doubt that I could have run down the court without tripping myself. So, no I was not a basketball player. But folks thought I should be.

When my wife and I got married we were young and had no idea of what might lie ahead. We were a couple of small-town kids in love and that seemed like enough to get us through. Lots of people felt obliged to tell us that it would never work out and that we were making a big mistake. Of course, it wasn’t easy, but our love survived and thrived. I was (and am) happy to be married to this amazing woman, even though people thought I wouldn’t be.

When we had children, I tried to be a “hands-on” dad. I could change diapers, burp and bathe babies, read bedtime stories, dry tears (sometimes my own), and all the rest. My wife was the true nurturer, but I was no slouch. I did everything she did (except breast feed) and I believe it made me a better daddy and a better man. Other men, I knew at the time, questioned why I would be so involved in what they believed should have been my wife’s job. Even my own father wondered why I was so wrapped up in all this baby business. The kind of dad he was – that’s what he thought I should be.

As our children grew, I stayed active in their young lives. This “hands-on” dad would be faced with challenges in child rearing. Three teenagers each with different interests and divergent paths at times felt overwhelming. With prayer and patience (mostly the prayers were for more patience) I did the best I could. Once, another parent questioned why I wasn’t “helping” my son with his science project. The implication was that he would do a lousy job without parental supervision. When I replied that I didn’t want to do my son’s work and I would rather see him fail on his own than succeed with me covertly completing the science project, the other parent thought I was dead wrong. A few years later our other son decided to dye his hair bright green when he was in high school. I remember a parent asking me why I would let him do that. I shrugged and said, “First of all, he didn’t exactly ask for my permission and secondly, I was only disappointed that he didn’t dye it blue, which is my favorite color.” These people didn’t think I was the father that I should be.

When our only daughter got married, I was an emotional wreck on the inside. I loved her fiancé and was certain he would be a good husband and I knew that we had raised a strong, intelligent, confident young woman. Still, I could only think about the baby girl that I had held in my arms and I wasn’t sure if I could get through her wedding day without being a blubbering idiot. I prayed and asked God to give me strength. I didn’t want anyone to mistake my potential tears as unhappiness or displeasure in her decision to marry. Thankfully I got through the day with a smile on my face and not one tear fell (at least not from my eyes). Later at the wedding reception folks marveled at the fact that I wasn’t crying. They all thought that I should be.

Now that I’m a grandfather, people mistake me for an old conservative. Maybe it’s because I live in a bastion of conservatism – in my county Republicans often run unopposed for elected offices. I can’t be the only white-haired old guy who is also a progressive. Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders have white hair and they’re not wearing MAGA hats. I’m certain there are other men my age who consider themselves feminists. Surely other 60-somethings want humane treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, the end of discrimination against minorities and women in the workplace, dignity afforded to those in LGBT community, effective gun control legislation, protection of our environment and the abolishment of capital punishment. I find myself often silent in social settings – not wanting to be offensive and trying hard not to be offended. My friends know me (the real me) but it seems at times that even they don’t think I’m who I should be.

I guess I’ve spent my whole life not quite meeting other people’s expectations. I’ve never apologized for not being who or what others thought I should or shouldn’t be but at times I’ve been sheepish about it. Sheepish – not in the shy or embarrassed sense (“Oh please don’t tell anyone that I changed a diaper last night and that I voted for Jimmy Carter”). But sheepish – in the following blindly along with the other sheep. (“I don’t like your racist, homophobic, xenophobic blather, but I’m just going to nod and walk away without challenging it”). Shame on me! Because that’s not who I think I should be.

So, I pray. I have a small faith group that I meet with monthly. My prayer partners help me put things into perspective and remind me to rely less on myself and more on God. My wife keeps me grounded and loves me more than I deserve. My kids constantly astound me by being even more generous and loving as adults than I ever dreamed possible. My grandchildren are the jewels in this crown of goodness called life that has been bestowed upon me; none of which is deserved but is nonetheless cherished beyond measure.

Sometimes I still feel like that newborn giraffe – clumsy, frightened, ridiculously ill-equipped to take even the smallest step but somehow I trod on.

Perhaps that’s exactly who I should be.

Peace,

Denis

Rejoice Always? Yes!

Last month I was asked to give a talk on the subject of “Giving thanks to God for all—Blessings and challenges”. For me it seemed a daunting task. I’m much better at complaining about stuff. Or commiserating about about the sorry state of life on our planet. Or bitching about traffic, my neighbors’ dogs, my co-workers, life in general. Poor me!

I turned to Scripture and found in Saint Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, that he tells us to “Rejoice always.” to “Pray without ceasing.” And, “In all circumstances give thanks.”

IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES GIVE THANKS!  Think about that! We must even be thankful for the crappy stuff: Car trouble; burnt toast; a bad hair day; a headache – sometimes all these things happen on the same day.

And we need to be thankful for the trials in our life, too: Career challenges; doubts about our vocations; marital discord; financial difficulties; raising teenagers.

And most difficult (for me) is the heart-breaking stuff: Serious illness; drug or alcohol addiction; divorce; death of a loved one; facing our own mortality.

How can I give thanks in all circumstances? How can any of us?

First, for me it helps to be thankful for the good things. Having an attitude of gratitude takes patience and practice. Instead of blindly accepting all the good things in my life as if I am somehow entitled to them or that I somehow earned the goodness in my life, it helps to remember that our blessings come from God. Many of you are better at this than me – so thank you for your witness.

Secondly, I am reminded of what Fred Rogers is credited as saying on the ‘Mister Roger’s Neighborhood’ television show: He said…

 “When I was a boy I would see scary things in the news and my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.

The idea of course is that even during the most unimaginable of times; during tremendous tragedies or horrific disasters, love can still be found. This doesn’t just make heroes of the helpers but also it reminds us that each of us can make a difference. Even during the darkest of days, we can bring healing to one another.

Finally, it helps me to remember that I am loved and cared for in a thousand little ways each day. I live in communion with others who will carry me when I can longer take another step. I know that I will have a hand to hold; a shoulder to cry on; a friend that I can count on; a God who will never forsake me.

So “Rejoice always.”  “Pray without ceasing.”  And “In all circumstances give thanks.”

This April my Mom passed away. Mom always seemed younger than her 90 years. She was proud, beautiful, strong, well-informed and quick-witted. Mom wasn’t large but she was definitely in charge!

Mom was a breast cancer survivor in the 1990’s and after her surgery she was blasted with radiation, which was the normal treatment at that time. Ironically the treatment that saved her life 30 years earlier, likely caused the pulmonary fibrosis which ultimately led to her death. But I am forever thankful for those 30 years.

Still it was tough watching Mom struggle with her breathing and her weakness due to oxygen deprivation for the last year or so. This was the Mom who took care of us and suddenly we were struggling with the heartbreaking reality that we needed to take care of her. Mom who was once Super Woman was now weak and helpless. Mom, who had bandaged our knees, held our hands, kissed away our tears, solved our problems, needed our help now, more than we felt we could give. But we tried.

I think about my own children and grandchildren and how my heart aches at times when I hear of their misfortunes or disappointments. I think about how my heart soars when I hear about their triumphs and accomplishments. But mostly I cherish the simple times; the quiet moments; the unspoken love we share.

I’m certain that Mom felt that way, too. One of the last times we were together, Mom and I just sat silently and held hands. There was no need for words. I remember feeling for a moment like a little boy and that Mom had everything under control. It was sublime. I have thanked God for that day many times since.

Mom taught me about God, and she taught me how to pray. Her example of faith lives on in her children, her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren. God is love. And Mom enveloped all of us in that love.

So, I rejoice not because Mom died but because I am her son and she loved me.

I pray without ceasing that the love she shared will continue to grow and touch generations of my family even beyond my imagining.

Gram in Heaven2And yes, even in her death, I give thanks for a peaceful passing and the gift she was to so many of us. My grandson Noah and my granddaughter Anna were profoundly affected by her death. They loved her and miss her terribly but because of Mom’s witness and the faith instilled in them, they also now believe that she is an angel in heaven watching over them. I believe she is, too! What great comfort it brings to know that Mom continues to surround all of us with her love. I recently discovered a drawing in my granddaughter’s sketch book – it’s her image of Mom as an angel in heaven.

With her beautiful drawing, Anna reminded me that we are NEVER alone in our rejoicing, and in our prayer, and in our thankfulness.

Peace,

Denis

 

 

Nine Years of Joy

Our Grandson Noah turns nine years-old today. Where does the time go? It seems like yesterday I held him in my arms for the first time. 

SelfieNoah has filled those nine years with love and joy, There are people who carry joy with them wherever they go. Noah has that gift. Any encounter with this joy-giver always makes me feel better; better about myself; better about life; better about this world. Noah has spirit. He has an amazing sense of adventure. He’s often the life of the party. He’s always looking for the good time; the big laugh; the happiness in every situation. He’s fun and funny. And he shares his boundless joy!

Noah is moving forward at record speed. He is growing in leaps and bounds. He seems to be in a hurry to get on with life; to learn more; play harder; face new challenges; enjoy new adventures; love more deeply. He is always looking forward to his next test; his next game; his next school year; his future. 

Noah and meStill, as he races toward that future, I know that he remembers to look back, too. For that, I am forever grateful. I hope when he looks back, he sees the love and security he has in being part of this family. I hope when he looks back, he sees that he has been nurtured and loved beyond measure. I hope when he looks back, he can take pride in his home; his school; his church; his community; his country. Those will be the building blocks of that future he seems so ready to take on.

Sometimes when I fear my future, I think of Noah and how he will conquer this world someday and make it a better place. Come to think of it, he already has. His kindness and joyfulness are much-needed antidotes for the sickness and sadness and corruption that I see in the news every day. When we are together, he and I, we share our stories – mine of boyhood memories of long ago; his of successes or challenges on the ball field or in the class room – we connect in way that is both physical and spiritual. Noah meets my every need, just by smiling at me; holding my hand; embracing me; telling me that he loves me.

Noah and NanaAs much as I need this beautiful boy,  I believe he needs me too. My love for him is unconditional. I’d  like to think that I love Noah the way that I hope God loves me. No proof of worthiness required. No test of loyalty needed. No apologies necessary.

Just boundless love and eternal joy.

Peace,

Denis 

P.S. Happy Birthday Noah Boy!

P.S.S. This is one of Noah’s favorite songs. 

 

 

Silence Isn’t Always Golden

In November 2000 the U.S. Catholic bishops published “Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity”  The document states, “The presence of so many people of so many different cultures and religions in so many different parts of the United States has challenged us as a Church to a profound conversion so that we can become truly a sacrament of unity. We reject the anti-immigrant stance that has become popular in different parts of our country, and the nativism, ethnocentricity, and racism that continue to reassert themselves in our communities.”

two-parties-still-not-attempting-real-immigration-reform-90054-560x315That was nearly nineteen years ago and still many in my parish community consider immigrants as dangerous and undeserving and unwanted. Seldom, if ever, does any message come from the pulpit in regards to welcoming the stranger among us. Rarely is there any acknowledgment of the crisis at our southern border and our responsibility as Catholic Christians to open our hearts and minds to our sisters and brothers. Our clergy often preaches that we should be pro-life but usually that only means pro-birth. Caring for those already born seems to be less important. Welcoming those fleeing for their very lives is apparently too messy to deal with, let alone to even preach about.

Of course, some in our Church have taken a stance against the immigration policies of the current administration. In January of this year Cardinal Tobin stated,“These men, women and children are neither numbers, nor criminal statistics, but flesh and blood people with their own stories and histories. Most are fleeing human misery and brutal violence that threatens their lives. False and fear-filled caricatures seek to provoke a sort of amnesia that would have this great nation deny our roots in immigrants and refugees.” 

And much good has come from the service of religious and lay volunteers at our southern border; offering respite and hope to those fleeing violence and persecution.

Still my parish priests remain mostly silent on this issue. This past weekend at Mass the silence was nearly deafening. The shooting and killing of innocent people in El Paso, Texas was not even mentioned. The hate and fear espoused by our current administration and echoed in the manifesto written by the domestic terrorist seems to be conveniently ignored by the politically conservative in our clergy. No prayers were offered for the victims of the mass shootings or their families. Instead we heard a homily about vanity and curbing our social media usage. Hollow words in light of the horrific events in Gilroy, El Paso and Dayton.

Fortunately, I have great friends and spiritual advisers who understand that God’s love for us is indeed for ALL OF US. They are examples of unconditional love. They are models of true Christianity. I find hope and strength in their presence. Their actions speak louder than words. And their songs fill my heart.

In his book “Eight Whopping Lies” Brian Doyle writes, “There are two Catholic Churches, one a noun the other a verb, one a corporation and the other a wild idea held in the hearts of millions of people who are utterly disinterested in authority and rules and regulations, and very interested indeed in finding ways to walk through the bruises of life with grace and humility.”

I belong to the “verb” Church. It’s time to make some noise; to demand realistic gun control legislation; to welcome strangers. And to comfort those wounded by the words and actions of those in power.

Peace,

Denis

Go Debbie, It’s Your Birthday!

My wife celebrates another birthday today and I love this life that we share.

Our story is not all that unusual. Small town kids who met and fell in love and according to the experts got married too young. We fell in love and there was no way out! Most of our journey together has been unplanned. I’ve heard it said that man plans and God laughs. But what about us? Stumbling through life and making the most of it without any plans. Sometimes I feel like we’re still those nineteen year-olds rushing down the aisle into the unknown. But here we are (a few years later) still side by side on this crazy ride. We have a saying in our home “funny trumps all!”. We laugh and love and remain grateful for the joy of our life together. Our laughter rings out and it can even drown out our tears. I’m sure we’ve still given God plenty to laugh about, planned or otherwise, but we’re laughing, too.

GlacierThe older I get the more I realize that where we’re headed is nothing compared to being on this journey together. On the darkest of days, when all seems lost, I look beside me and know that everything will be alright. When happiness abounds, I know that it’s because of the love that Deb brings into my life. 

Here’s what you need to know about my birthday girl: If you are in need, she’s the friend/sister/daughter/mother/grandmother to call on. If you need a laugh, she will always deliver. If you need someone to hold or if you need to be held, her arms are always open wide. If you need to cry, she will cry, too. Debbie has this incredible gift of making you feel that when she’s with you, no one else is more important or more needed at that moment than you. You have her complete undivided attention. She gives her entire self.

And as for me, well when Deb walks in the room it’s like everyone else fades into the background. All the light in the space seems to be emanating from her. She just gets to me. So we fell in love and there was no way out. But why would I ever want out?

So go Debbie, it’s your birthday! Thanks for all the love and laughter. It’s been a wild ride.

Love,

Denis