Will I Know Him When He Comes?

“If Jesus visited me, what would I be able to give Him?” That was the question of the old shoemaker in Tolstoy’s story. The response came back to him from a voice not present, “Dear old shoemaker, tonight I am going to visit your village. Look for Me.”

Of course as the story goes on we learn that the shoemaker is visited by orphans and widows looking for shelter and food. The shoemaker gives to each who approach him. He even shares the soup he has prepared for Jesus. He goes even further by making shoes for children in the orphanage. But ultimately he is disappointed because Jesus does not come.

When he questions God, he is told “I visited you last night and you gave me warmth. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was hungry and you fed me, and I was in the orphanage and you came to visit me. Whatever you did for all these people, you also did for me.”

I wonder, do I serve others as would choose to serve my Lord? Do I have the same spirit of generosity and love for those whom I don’t know? Do I fail to recognize Christ in my fellow humans?

adventcandlesAdvent is a good time for me to stop and listen to what Jesus is asking of me. I try to quiet myself and listen to what is truly important. Mostly I fail. But sometimes Jesus shines through. Sometimes my heart is broken open enough to allow the love of God to fill my soul. The love is always there but often it takes a smile or a kind word or a song or a warm embrace to help me let down my defenses. Last weekend my granddaughter gently put her arm around me and told me (again) that she loved me. Christ came to me at that moment. I didn’t even ask for God’s love and there it was!

I have a dear friend who is volunteering at a Humanitarian Center serving immigrants from Central America as I write this. I can’t help but believe that he has been visited by Jesus countless times. And he has been Christ to those families who are in such desperate need of love and care. He is an inspiration to me.

O come, O come Emmanuel. This year when I hear this ancient and beautiful song, my heart is with those immigrant families mourning in lonely exile until the Son of God appears.

Peace,

Denis

 

Being a Minister of Hospitality with an Inhospitable Heart

I had an Uncle Les who was one of the kindest men I ever met. Always smiling and ready to shake a hand, he appeared constantly happy – always approachable and utterly charming. Fittingly, he was an Usher at our Parish Church. Never a Sunday went by that he didn’t hug our kiddos, give Deb a peck on the check and offer me a pat on the back. It remains one of my greatest joys about attending mass at our old parish. And Uncle Les didn’t reserve his hospitality for his nephew and family. He greeted everyone in the same manner. “Welcome!”  “Good to see!”  “How are you?”

Fast-forward about forty years and now I’m an usher (we’re called ministers of hospitality today) and I try to be a friendly face and welcoming presence like my dear uncle. Usually I fall short of that goal.

I have a secret: I became an usher (oops – minister of hospitality) because I didn’t like most of the people I encountered at Mass. Ours is an upscale, very conservative parish where I often feel out of step with most of my fellow parishioners. I thought that if I could stop judging and start greeting people I would learn to love them as they are and let go of my need to have everyone think and act like me. Some days are easier than others.

But it’s working.  S L O W L Y –  V E R Y  S L O W L Y.

usher-pic_origI smile and shake hands and offer the occasional hug or pat on the back. I’m the ‘Minister of Hospitality’ but in truth I’m the one being ministered. These folks that I’m greeting, that I know I would have never engaged in conversation before, are also welcoming me and greeting me and loving me. I’m certain many are misogynists, and racists, and xenophobes, and all manner of despicable human. But isn’t that why we gather? Aren’t we at Mass to be changed? Aren’t we building the “Body of Christ” in our flawed human way?

So I continue to show up on Sundays and do my thing. I smile. I greet. I welcome. I especially enjoy the ‘late-comers’ – the folks who try to slip in unnoticed. They often have a look that’s a mixture of shame and astonishment (“How did this happen? I’m sure I left my house on time!”) I great them with a special smile and knowing nod – “It’s okay; you’re here; you made it; welcome.” I particularly love our “back of church” officially called the “Gathering Space” It’s an amazing and wonderful place.  Normal ‘Mass behavior’ can be abandoned there; beleaguered parents can allow their children to run and giggle; crying is completely acceptable; teenagers can skulk about like parolees.

In all of this, I see God’s love. Jesus is greeting me with each smile and kind word. I’m beginning to look at the “Body of Christ” in a whole new light. And little by little my stone cold heart is being chipped away.

Some Sundays I even feel Uncle Les smiling down on me.

Peace,

Denis

School Pictures

Recently our grandchildren had their school pictures taken. Of course all of them are beautiful and the photos will be treasured always. But while thinking about school pictures of the past I couldn’t help but reflect on the anxious moments that “SCHOOL PICTURE DAY” sometimes created.

When I was a kid, Mom had my brother and I wear matching clothes on picture day. Not sure if the humiliation was intentional. Every year was another black and white snapshot of crew cut, buck teeth and plaid shirt. Looking back on those photos from 1st to 8th grade is like looking at the progression of early man from Neanderthal to modern human.

With our own children, who wore uniforms to school everyday, picture day was special because it was “out of uniform” day, too. I have never really understood a school that takes pride in its uniformed minions allowing (encouraging?) picture day to be uniform-free. So one day each year the “what am I going to wear?” crisis took place. Truth be told, looking back at those old photos, it appears that some of those fashion choices were made with intentional humiliation. Sorry kids – we apparently possessed poor parenting skills.

With digital photography and nearly instant access, parents today are offered a multitude of choices; different poses; different backgrounds; different lighting. Adorable keepsakes all.

black eyeBut somehow I kind of miss the crap-shoot of the old days. The only choices we had were: wallet size, 5 x 7, or 8 x 10. The mug was the same on all. You didn’t know until “SCHOOL PICTURE DELIVERY DAY” if you had kept your eyes open or if you were smiling or if your hair was sticking up or if you were missing teeth or if that black eye or fat lip was noticeable.

Those photos may have been a truer chronicle of our school days than what today’s kids have. At least they’re funnier.

Peace,

Denis

Saint Denis

Today is the Feast Day of St. Denis. He is the patron Saint of Paris and France and headache sufferers.

I’ve always been happy to have Denis as my saint’s name because he’s kind of a maverick and a tough guy. According to legend Denis was Bishop of Paris in the third century and was martyred by beheading. He is said to have picked up his own head and walked six miles, preaching a sermon the entire way. Also Denis is the patron saint of headache sufferers, frenzy and strife. This is not surprising considering that six mile trek while carrying his own severed head!

St. Denis - Outside the Madeline in Paris (depicted with head intact)

St. Denis – Outside the Madeleine in Paris  (depicted with head intact)

Of course I admire the “saintly” saints who prayed and fasted and gave up all worldly possessions to follow Jesus’ call. We all love the saints who lived simple lives and made tremendous sacrifices for their faith but there’s something about a guy that’s got Denis’ spunk. I mean even the biggies like Francis and Theresa and Patrick and Clare didn’t carry around their own heads post mortem. So in my book Denis is a saint to emulate. Not only was he tough but he was cool. Let’s call it grace under pressure – extreme pressure.

 

St. Denis

Our grandson as St. Denis last year during All Saints’ week at school

Last year our grandson Noah chose to be St. Denis for the All Saints’ celebration at school. This morning he’s doing one of the readings at mass. Holy Noah (AKA St. Denis).

My Aunt Gene used to send me a ‘Saints Day’ card on Denis’ feat day and I will miss that again this year. When Alzheimer’s took it’s grip she forgot about Saint Denis and was sometimes a little fuzzy about who I was, too. But she’s the one who first introduced me to the saint who shares my name. And I have always taken a certain amount of pride (is that a sin?) in the fact that my patron saint was a badass who defied his Roman persecutors!

I’d like to think that Aunt Gene and Denis are in heaven having a conversation about that fateful day in Paris so many centuries ago…

Peace,

Denis

Carpooling, Chromebooks, Common Core and Other Confoundment.

This week we had two of our grandkids stay with us. Their parents were on a little get-away. We enjoy having the kiddos spend the night on occasion but full-time parental duty is a bit daunting. Don’t get me wrong. We had a great time and they are great kids but school and extracurriculars today are very different from when our children were students.

schoolCarpool drop-off and pick-up requires special training and following the RULES. You have to wait for your signal and be prepared to “REMAIN IN YOUR CAR” or “EXIT YOUR CAR” or “MOVE OUT OF THE WAY OLD MAN – YOU CAN KISS YOUR GRANDKIDS GOODBYE SOME OTHER TIME”. Those carpoolers don’t mess around. And I suppose giving someone “the finger” at a Catholic school is frowned upon. Live and learn…

A Chromebook (some kind of computer) is required for 5th graders. I don’t understand what happens with it, I just know that whatever it is can’t happen without it. And yes, I had return to school when it was left behind Wednesday morning. For the record: it was my fault. I asked my granddaughter is she needed her iPad thingy. Which she didn’t. What I should have asked was, “do you need your computer thingy in the pink case?”

I have no idea what Common Core is. Probably something that 5th graders do with their Chromebooks. I heard some Moms talking about it at the 2nd grader’s baseball game and pretended to understand. I think I had them totally fooled.

This week there was choir practice and a baseball game and Robotics. Each day was another adventure. We had homework and bath time and bedtime rituals. We shared lots of laughs at dinner as we talked about the school day. Bedtime prayers nearly broke my heart each night with their simple yet eloquent thanksgiving for life and love. Their little poochie slept snuggly between them. And we all fell fast asleep. Some of us were more tired than others.

Their Nana made their favorite foods for breakfast and dinner and I benefitted from the requests. Who doesn’t want to start a day with Red Velvet Pancakes? Lunches were packed with special snacks. I scored some of those, too.

It has been a fun week, but I’m not sorry that Mom and Dad are coming home to take over. I’m reminded once again that there is a time and place for everything and it’s time for me to go back to being a grandfather and to get out of the carpool lane.

Peace,

Denis

 

 

 

 

 

Cheese

Years ago I worked with a guy who had a young son. My workmate discovered the little guy, who was usually quite active, in solemn contemplation. Concerned that his son was anxious about something, he gently asked, “Hey buddy whatcha thinkin’ about?” His five year-old’s response: “Cheese.” He was just blissfully enjoying the moment. Not worried tomorrow. Or what had or hadn’t happened the day before. Just cheese.

Sometimes I long for those “cheese” moments in my life. Times when I am truly present. When I can turn off the worries and the anticipations of tomorrow and let go of the recriminations and regrets of the past. I’ve tried centering prayer and meditation but I usually fill the silence with silly pop songs in my head or I struggle to remember if I’ve paid a bill that was due or what my third grade teacher’s name was. I’m a “what’s next? – let’s move on” kind of guy. It’s a struggle for me to S L O W  D O W N and smell the roses.

LIVE-YOUR-LIFE-TO-THE-FULLESTThis weekend was my 45th high school class reunion and I felt blessed to be very much in the moment. Of course we reminisced about school days long ago but mostly I met my old friends where they are today. Some married high school sweethearts. Many of us are grandparents now. Some have had amazing careers. Some have found great fortune. Some have had more than their share of heartache. But for a brief shining moment we were the NEW AND IMPROVED class of 1973 in 2018. An updated version – free of adolescent angst.  We weren’t the jocks or geeks or cheerleaders or rebels anymore. We were just old friends sharing a moment in time. The wrinkles and gray hair and extra pounds seemed to magically disappear as we embraced one another.  We shared laughter and rekindled friendships. The familiar faces and warm conversations made me feel as though I had just graduated and turned right around and walked back through the door.

I know that it was just one moment in time. I know that we will all rush back to our busy lives for better or for worse. But I left the evening feeling extremely grateful. Thankful for my friends. Thankful for my memories.

And so I’m sitting at my desk today smiling to myself and thinking about high school (and a little boy who once loved cheese) and I’m living in the moment.

Peace,

Denis

 

 

 

 

And I Remain a Catholic…

This is not an easy time for Catholics. The unspeakable evil revealed in Pennsylvania that over 1,000 persons were sexually abused by 300 priests and even worse the systematic cover up by church hierarchy for seven decades is devastating. The details of the abuse are sickening but they should be read and understood by every practicing Catholic. We cannot bury our heads in the sand. It’s important to remember that pedophile priests aren’t just something that came out of Boston or Pennsylvania or Ireland. Many of my classmates will remember a priest in our Catholic grade school in the 1960’s that was “reassigned” as rumors whirled around about his behavior. I was spared but some of the boys in my class were abused (which is a polite way to say raped). It was an open secret. We all knew something, but we were too young (or ill-informed) to know what we knew. Twenty-five years later a popular young priest was removed from the school where our children attended because of abuse allegations. And on and on…

Many of my non-Catholic friends ask how I can remain in a Church so full of disgrace and sinfulness. How can I remain in a Church where the clergy attack the most vulnerable amongst us? Some of my Catholic friends ask that question, too. Truth be told, sometimes I ask myself. 

I’m angry. I’m outraged. I’m sad. I’m broken-hearted. And still I remain a Catholic.

We must not ignore the crimes of those priests and bishops. We should ALL speak up and speak out. We must ferret out the monsters who would prey upon the most vulnerable. I’m angry that anyone would sexually exploit a child, especially someone in a position of trust. I’m outraged that Church hierarchy covered up the abuse for decades, maybe centuries. I’m sad because of the loss of innocence and the destruction of faith in those young souls and that these despicable acts have been repeated countless times and it doesn’t seem to stop! I’m broken-hearted because now some in our Church are using these latest revelations as an excuse to attack progressives in our midst. Some ultra-conservative bishops are using this latest crisis to instill hate and doubt in the hearts and minds of others to further their political agendas. And still, I remain a Catholic.

Our Church champions pro-life causes when it’s about abortion or euthanasia but remains largely silent regarding affordable health care for the young and the aged. We proclaim our belief in a catholic (universal) Church; one that welcomes all of God’s creation but in practice we don’t really welcome everyone and are often openly hostile when it comes to LGBTQ rights and gender equality. We fail as a faith community when we refuse to fight for the dignity of immigrants and those separated from their children by our government’s overreach. We pay lip service to racism in the Church but in the U.S., we remain predominantly male, white and insular in our worship and leadership. Where is the compassion for those marginalized in our society? Pro-life should mean supporting ALL life not just that with which we are comfortable. I often feel ashamed of the unloving attitudes of some of my church-mates and myself. And still I remain a Catholic.

Our Church (my Church) is like a family: loud, messy, demanding, imperfect, passive-aggressive, arrogant, and intolerant. We have our share of crazy uncles, angry spouses, spoiled brats, privileged teens, and old codgers. We fight. We’re selfish. We neglect one another. We refuse to lift a hand to help one another. We are at times ugly, hateful and mean-spirited.

untitledBut because our Church (my Church) is like a family we also love, protect and cherish one other. We nurture, advise, and counsel one another. We pray for one another. Like any family, we come together in times of celebration and heartache. Our family cheers us on when we feel down-trodden or overwhelmed by circumstances beyond our control. Our family carries us when we’ve lost all hope and strength. When there is a death or a job loss or some natural disaster, families can put aside their differences and be there for one another. It is also true for our Church – we need to accept one another as we are. We need to celebrate one another as we are. I’m reminded that we are the Church. Not the priests nor the bishops, but you and I. If you’re searching for God; if you need to see Jesus’ face, just look at the person next to you in the pew.

We Catholics are human – hopelessly flawed and sinful. Still in spite our failings we are given grace because God’s love is without fail. No matter how we muck things up; no matter how grave our sins; no matter how unforgivable our actions; we are forgiven. God’s love is greater than our sin.

And so, I’m going to keep the “family” that I have and remain a Catholic…

Peace,

Denis