Quiet Moments

I talk a lot. Too much (some would say). I love lively conversations and big laughs. I like action and music in the background. I’d always rather be a participant than a spectator. I like to be moving and shaking and getting things accomplished.

And I find quiet, well disquieting. Moments of silence seem like an eternity to me. Silent retreats are torturous. And when someone says, “Let’s take a few minutes and quietly reflect”, I can feel my heart start racing and my mind cannot focus on the task at hand. All I can think about is the deafening silence and wonder if I am the only one who is this uncomfortable in THE QUIET. And then I am often amused by a joke that I recall:

There was a monk who took a vow of silence. Every ten years he was allowed to speak only two words. After the first ten years the Abbot summoned the monk and requested his two words, which were: “FOOD COLD“. He was thanked for his honesty. Another ten years passed and the Abbot again summoned the monk and requested his two words, this time it was: “BED HARD“. Again his honesty was appreciated and he left in silence. After thirty years in the Abbey, the monk was summoned once again. His two words: “I QUIT“. The Abbot shrugged and said in reply, “Well, I’m not surprised, you’ve been complaining since you got here.”

Yesterday, once again, I was reminded that quiet moments needn’t be painful, they can in fact be quite beautiful. It’s not easy for me but, when I can shut up long enough to listen with my heart I am blessed beyond measure. Embracing those quiet moments can be a little glimpse of heaven on earth. (Not that I want heaven to be quiet).

Last night my grandson and I were in the backyard talking about baseball and some of our favorite players. The conversation drifted to his upcoming school year. Suddenly our conversation stopped when a bunny hopped up to the patio and stared at us. Once it had our attention it ran off. It proceeded to do this about five or six times. It seemed to be playing with us. So there we were grandson and grandfather immersed in the splendor and joy of this simple act. We were stilled and thrilled and washed in this golden moment. As long as I have memories, this will be one of them.

At bedtime, I remembered another quiet moment that will live in my heart forever. Just a few weeks before my Mom passed away I stopped for a visit. Her pulmonary fibrosis had gotten the better of her that day. She and I just sat and held hands in silence. There she was, near her life’s end, still comforting me. Her soft small hand was holding mine and protecting me as she always did. I believe that she felt the strength in my hand that day and she felt comforted too. No words were needed. Love was conveyed.

So as much as I sometimes curse the silence, I am humbled and blessed by those quiet moments in my life. I pray that the next time I am asked to, “Take a few minutes and quietly reflect” I will remember those quiet treasures I carry in my heart.

Peace,

Denis

Perfectly Mismatched

My beautiful wife Debbie is 4′-11″ tall. I’m 6′-1″. Height differences have been challenging at times to say the least. Disagreements about where things should be placed (top shelf or bottom shelf; overhead or underneath) have been a source of conflict through the years. Also purchasing furniture, cabinets, and automobiles that fit both of us can be quite challenging. Our daily lives have been consumed with readjusting mirrors, car seats, step stools, computer monitors, and anything else that will allow height accommodations. We are simply physically mismatched.

Of course, our physical differences are just part of the challenge. I’m all – hurry, hurry; come on let’s go! She’s all – take it easy; slow down; calm down. I need a well-thought-out plan. She runs on feelings and often laughs at my plans. I’m an early bird that loves to rise and shine. She’s a night owl who requires silence and coffee in the morning. I’m very linear. She usually colors outside the lines.

Through the years we have learned that differences are not detrimental to a successful relationship. In fact, just the opposite. My wife and I complement one another. We fill in each other’s voids. We carry one another when necessary. And don’t be fooled by her size. Deb is larger than life. Her circle of influence is boundless. She dreams big. She has more class in her little finger than most folks have in their entire body. And she has more friends today than I have had in my entire life.

If you are in need, she’s the friend/sister/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 know 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. She is the heart of our family; friendships are lifelong; her word is her bond; her love for others is boundless.

I’m the luckiest man on earth. Somehow God decided that I was the one who got to share this life with her. Through the good and bad; through the joys and sorrows; I’ve had this beautiful hand to hold. And I’ll never let go.

Happy Birthday Deb.

I love you,

D

Fingerprints

When my kids were small, I was a maniac about trying to keep the house clean and orderly. I’m sure that they’re all emotionally scarred (but seriously, was it too much trouble to wipe their feet and pick up their book bags?). At times I wish I could turn back the clock and let go of my need for control. Too much time was spent keeping things on schedule; in order; squeaky clean. To much effort was put into finishing dinner; getting somewhere on time; making lists; completing tasks. It must have been exhausting.

Today when one of my grandkids leaves a fingerprint on a mirror or window, I’m hesitant to clean it. I want to save all those precious prints. I’ve mellowed with age.

I realize now that those babies who were entrusted into my care left fingerprints on my heart. No one can ever wipe those away. I became a father at twenty-three. To say that I was clueless would be the understatement of the century. When we left the hospital with our newborn son, whom the nurse placed on my wife’s lap in the front seat of our 1977 Ford Pinto, we drove away not knowing what adventures, heartache, joys, and love lie ahead.

There have been proud moments, important milestones, and great honors bestowed upon my progeny. They are three amazing humans. But the things that I carry in my heart on this wonderous ride called Fatherhood are those tiny “finger prints”. They are with me wherever I go. And will be forever.

Tyson’s baby belly-laughs still ring in my memory’s ears and remind me that laughter is truly the best medicine. Bess’s bedtime ritual, complete with “Dad, I’m glad you’re my Dad” still warms this old heart of mine: “Peeper, I’m glad you’re my Peeper”. Remembering Blake standing on our front porch waving goodbye until my car was out of sight, on one of my too many business trips, still makes me yearn for one more hug and one more kiss.

Back in the day, while I was busy cleaning and wiping away those fingerprints, little did I know that they were being imprinted on my heart. What a gift! What a life! What a love!

Happy Father’s Day!

Denis

Invisible Man

I’m an usher at my church. Official title: Minister of Hospitality. Honoring that commitment, I attempt to be hospitable. I try to greet each person with a smile and a “hello” or “good morning”. As an usher our duties are pretty simple, which is why I qualify for the job:

  • Greet people.
  • Assist in finding seating.
  • Keep an eye out for those with special needs.
  • Be friendly and welcoming.
  • Try not to judge others (this is my own personally assigned duty and my biggest struggle).

Let me explain.

I believe most folks come to Mass with a open heart and an open mind. Of course, I realize that many also arrive with a heavy heart. Some people can barely put one foot in front of the other due to overwhelming grief or illness. Others also likely come due to some sense of obligation and perhaps with little thought of why we gather as community. Some enter our church angry with God, the Church, or our clergy. Others are carrying in the hearts any number of social, spiritual, emotional or economic ills. I too, sometimes fall into any and all of those categories.

I remind myself each Sunday of the words of the hymn “All Are Welcome”. And I try…

I try to greet each worshipper. I try to extend a hand of friendship and fellowship. I try to make people feel welcomed and loved. I often fail. Recently I was slightly bemused by the number of people who walk past me as if I don’t exist. They don’t acknowledge my greeting. Some barely glance in my direction. Some appear to go out of their way to avoid making eye contact. I have felt at those times like the “Invisible Man”. On Sundays when I am feeling particularly feisty, I try harder. I push myself in front of the disobliging and force them to look at me or at least nod some recognition of my existence. I realize now that that is a bigger failure.

Perhaps some poor souls are finding comfort in their anonymity. Perhaps their pain or anger is so great that they want to feel invisible. That way no one can touch them, hurt them or rebuke them in any way. In my blindness and self-importance, I was failing to offer them the space that they might so desperately need; the sanctuary, if you will. If they find comfort in entering this sacred space and becoming invisible, then who am I to invade that privacy. I can smile and I can nod and I can leave them alone to find their God.

I’m a slow learner but I have finally realized after many failures that “all are welcome in this place” means ALL, not just the ones who smile back at me.

Peace,

Denis

“Don’t tell me that guns aren’t the problem”

Those are not my words. Those are the words of Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas. He continued, “I’m sick of hearing it.” So am I Bishop, so am I.

I cannot comprehend a hate so virulent in one individual that he would commit the most despicable crime against the most innocent of victims. And yet, in just two weeks time our country has endured two mass shootings perpetrated by eighteen-year-olds. Why in God’s name could someone so young be so filled with hate?

Amerie Garza, 10, celebrated being on the honor roll just hours before she was killed in yesterday’s school shooting.

As a parent and grandparent I am shaken and I am heartbroken. I want to hold on to my precious grandchildren and reassure them that this could NEVER HAPPEN to them. As a citizen I am outraged and fearful because I know that I cannot make that promise. This is the world in which we live. My emotions have bounced back and forth between sadness and anger since learning of this latest massacre.

Our United States Senators have the power to stem the horrific violence of guns in our nation but they remain silent; they remain beholden to the gun lobbyists and the NRA. They will ask for prayers for the victims and families and they will offer “moments of silence” and request that flags be flown at half-mast but they will do nothing to stop this madness.

Of course, I have friends and family who are gun owners. They are peaceful hunters and sportsmen and sportswomen. Some own weapons as a safeguard against possible intruders or persons intent on doing them harm. My friends and family are not the problem. But we are also not the solution. We sit quietly and respectfully (?) amidst the violence in our country. We do not challenge our elected representatives to put in place reasonable gun safety regulations. The proliferation of guns in our nation is deplorable. Within my own community there are frequent “guns shows” which allow the relatively easy purchase of weapons with little or no background check. You can carry concealed guns in my neighborhood legally. We need to stop the slaughter of innocent victims by enacting responsible gun control legislation.

Won’t you join me? Let’s pray for the victims and their families. Let’s pray for the grace to mend broken relationships. Let’s pray for the relief of the suffering and pain of others. But then, let’s get off our knees and ask our members of Congress to actively work on real gun control. Let’s vote for Senators and Representatives who will truly be PRO-LIFE and stop kowtowing to the gun lobbyists and the money they offer.

And please don’t tell me that guns aren’t the problem.

Peace,

Denis

Just Keep Swinging

I am often discouraged by the divisions in our church, in our local community, in our country, and in our world. At times it seems the chasms cannot be traversed. We stand at odds. There can be no compromises. No one wins.

Last weekend two of our granddaughters received sacraments of our Church, Eucharist and Confirmation respectively. Special days with special graces granted to these two beautiful children of God. Promises of a life with Christ; a life with a community of believers; a life everlasting. And yet, a shadow of division hangs over our heads. During this most sacred time we are reminded by some in our Church that women and girls are not equal to the task of preaching and ministering to others. What are we asking of our daughters and granddaughters? Blind obedience to a patriarchy that seems woefully out of touch?

This week (again) the political circus in our nation is on display. The right and left seem hell-bent on destroying one another and possibly democracy in the process. Abortion rights and the possible reversal of Roe vs. Wade is dominating our airwaves and social media. The ongoing January 6th Investigation paints many of our elected officials as little more that pawns in some power play for political dominance. Where are our statesmen and stateswomen? What example are we setting for our daughters and sons; our granddaughters and grandsons? Blind obedience to political affiliation at all costs?

Last week I was watching my grandson’s little league team playing baseball on a rainy, cool evening. The boys were struggling with the weather and it was certainly not their best performance to-date. But they were undaunted. They kept swinging. They left the game as losers but their spirits were not diminished. And they remained good sports and respectful rivals. Once again, I was reminded of what Jesus said: “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

So there remains hope. I have a dear friend who is working to help immigrants that have recently arrived in our community. He doesn’t ask how they got here. He doesn’t judge their worthiness. He is not expecting them to share his political views. He is simply being the eyes, the hands, and the feet of Christ.

And I have another friend who is arranging for housing for a young woman who is homeless with a baby. She doesn’t ask how she found herself in this situation. She doesn’t judge her decisions. Instead she offers love, kindness and generosity. She too, is being the eyes, the hands and the feet of Christ.

My friends have overcome the weariness many of us (me) possess with our dysfunctional political processes and lack of understanding by those “in charge”. They are like my grandson and his team mates. Facing what might seem like insurmountable odds, they just keep swinging. In the process they are helping heal the divisions in our church, in our local community, in our country, and in our world.

And once again my soul is renewed.

Peace,

Denis

Women Proclaim!

On Holy Thursday during his homily one of the priests of our parish made it clear that women have no place in the priesthood. He stated that Jesus gave us a “model” to follow. Jesus gathered 12 men for dinner – no women were invited. Although I would guess that there were women serving the meal. This particular priest seems committed to the exclusion of women from ordained ministry. The irony is that at Holy Thursday services this priest had to wash the feet of several women and girls. I pray that washing their feet humbled him. I don’t know if he’s afraid of women or just insecure in his own vocation. Either way, in my opinion this is his great loss. As the father of a daughter and the grandfather of four granddaughters, I am often troubled by the idea that women (girls) must continue to take a backseat in our Church.

But Jesus also gave us another “model”.

Father James Martin, a Jesuit Priest, wrote this today: Today’s Gospel reminds us that in the time between her encounter with the Risen Christ and when she shared the news of the Resurrection with the other disciples, Mary Magdalene was, in a sense, the church on earth (John 20). Because only to her had been revealed the full Paschal Mystery. Only she, for a time, was able to understand the suffering, death and rising of Jesus Christ. Any discussion of women’s roles in the church must begin with these two facts: First, it was to a woman, not a man, to whom the Risen Christ first chose to appear. And second, it was a woman who, for a time, was the sole recipient, carrier and proclaimer, of the Good News of the Resurrection.

I reflect on my own spirituality. It was my mother who first taught me how to pray. It was her model of faith that I continue to follow to this day. It was my Godmother whose hand I held on my way to receive Jesus at my First Holy Communion. It was my three Aunts, who were Sisters of the Most Precious Blood, who modeled compassion for those in need and service to God through service to others. It is my wife who models patience, love and social awareness. It is my daughter who teaches me to show kindness to children by her example as a Catholic Educator. And it is my granddaughters who model unconditional love by loving me, a cranky, opinionated, old feminist. These women and girls proclaim The Good News to me each day. They don’t need vestments or ordination to prove their worth, regardless of how deserving they may be.

Peace,

Denis

Holy Week for the Unholy

This week is Holy Week: Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter. I always find myself a little out step with the truly holy this week or at least my perception of what qualifies as holiness. I believe in the Creator and the Redeemer, but I just don’t pray enough or sacrifice enough or give enough. I do however have a lot of Catholic guilt if that counts for anything.

Yesterday, Palm Sunday, is a favorite day of mine. I love watching the folks come to church and take their palm branches. There are those among us who hold on to them reverently like some ancient relic; and those who grab them absent-mindedly with a sort-of “oh right, it’s that day” look on their faces; there are the creative ones who braid them in to crosses and what-not; and of course the kids who use them to “sword fight” when bored during Mass. Please understand, I’m not demeaning the ritual. I love all the sights, sounds and smells of Holy Week. I especially like the fact that it makes people (me) pay better attention to what’s going on. This is different – this is not your usual ‘phone-it-in’ Sunday mass. This is Holy Week.

When I am feeling particularly unholy, Holy Week comes along and rescues me from my complacency. Truth be told, I usually find Jesus in the congregation more often than in any Gospel reading or prayer or ritual. I look at the father of the severely disabled child who shows so much compassion and tenderness. I find myself exhausted just watching this family but the father remains steadfast in his love. I look at the mother of three very young children who deals with the screams and tantrums in what seems like an endless merry-go-round of trips to the ‘Gathering Space’ to comfort or discipline one of her tiny delinquents. Her composure is of epic proportions. I look at the elderly man who often occupies one of the last pews. He seems to pray so fervently. I wonder if he is alone (or lonely). I pray that his prayers are being answered. In my own feeble way, I try to extent some holiness to each of them. A smile; a friendly nod; a kind word. And I thank God for their presence.

So, again this Holy Week I will pray that the examples of the truly holy will lift me up and remind me that God invites sinners to the table as well. And I will be transformed from an unholy participant to a grateful recipient.

Peace,

Denis

Holding On and Letting Go

My daughter shared that on her family’s recent trip to the Grand Canyon her 11-year-old son became concerned with her welfare on one of the trail hikes and took her hand. She’s not sure if he thought that the steep incline might be too challenging for her or if he was worried because she was battling allergies or perhaps, he thought she might be frightened of the heights. Regardless, he held her hand. This is something that this 11-year-old boy doesn’t normally do in public anymore. He’s too big now and too vulnerable to 5th grade peer pressure to be seen holding hands with Mom.

A few weeks ago at church a woman who I know needed some assistance. I know her in the “from church” sense of the word. I know her name and that she was recently widowed and that she had been a teacher years ago, but I don’t really know her well. Still, we’ve always spoken to one another in the polite ‘have a nice day’ kind of way that casual acquaintances do. Lately she has acquired a walker and on this particular Sunday, I helped her retrieve it after Mass. That simple gesture was repaid by a smile and a grasp of my hand and squeeze from her old bony hand. It was a sweet, warm encounter. I wondered as she scooted off how much she must miss the touch of her beloved late husband’s hand.

I lost my Mom nearly three years ago and there is not a single day that goes by that I don’t think of her. Usually, they are happy thoughts and fond memories of the times we shared. Sometimes, I feel the ache of her absence profoundly; I feel her loss in my heart; in my soul; and in my physical being. On those days I am comforted by the memory of one of our last times together. A week before she died, I stopped by to visit, and Mom was on the sofa in the family room. Her pulmonary fibrosis had gotten the best of her that day and she was listless and breathless. We sat side by side on that sofa and she put her hand in mine and we sat there in silence. No words were needed. I remember feeling like a young boy once again being comforted and reassured that Mom was going to be okay. There I was trying to take of her and instead she was taking care of me.

Holding on and letting go.

My grandson held on to my daughter on that canyon hike as she was struggling to let go of the baby boy who is no longer there. He let go of his fear of being seen holding hands with Mom. She is comforted in knowing now he will always take care of her while is she busy also taking care of him.

My friend from church is holding on to her walker and letting go of some of her independence. She is forging ahead in a life without her spouse. And she is blessing those around her who offer her small kindnesses.

My Mom gave me a such a beautiful gift on that day on the sofa together. She gave me hope and peace. As we were holding on to one another she let me know without words that it was time to let go.

And here she, is still taking care of me…

Peace,

Denis

Do-overs

Have you ever wanted a “do-over”? A chance to re-take a test? Wriggle out of some obligation? Get back your “non-refundable” deposit? Or choose a different color you’ve painted a wall or dyed your hair?

For me, most of my do-overs involve wishing I hadn’t said something or behaved a certain way. Or wishing I had stood up and spoken up when I was too frightened or apathetic. I regret the times when I was angry and spewed hateful and hurtful words. I am sorry for the times when I stood silently while others made racist, sexist or homophobic remarks and I was too “polite” to call them out. I am ashamed of the times I have laughed at others’ misfortune. I feel guilty for gossiping about others’ trials and tribulations and in finding some perverse pleasure in my superiority. Shame on me!

I think Lent is a time of do-overs. It’s an opportunity for me to shut up or speak up as the case may be. And seek forgiveness.

Lent is a time to reflect on my life and on how my life is entwined with others. What I do (or don’t do) has an impact on my relationship with both the people that I love and know intimately and those I don’t know and may never meet. What I do affects others; in my home, in my neighborhood, in my workplace, and in my world. And most importantly in my relationship with God.

But here’s the good news: God has given me do-overs. A chance to make a new beginning!

Humbled by own my mistakes I can be more considerate of others failings. I can learn to be more patient with myself. Often, I’m reminded by my failures that I am a ‘work in progress’. Sometimes it’s just a subtle reminder that I’m not really in charge of anything other than how I react to the circumstances of my life. Other times I’m slapped in the face with the reality that I just really screwed up! It’s those ‘screwing up’ times that resonate with me. I spend way too much time and energy on the coulda-shoulda-woulda stuff.

Instead, I will thank God for the do-overs. For the second (or third or fourth, etc., etc.) chance(s) I’m given.

And I will humbly accept forgiveness and try again.

Peace,

Denis