Easter Season

On Easter the Alleluia returned! But for many of us it was a muted alleluia.

Usually Easter Mass is exultant, but not this year. If the bells tolled and the organ played but no one was there, did it still make a sound? Virtual was not actual. iPads and televisions were poor substitutes for the true sights and sounds and smells of Easter Vigil.

I for one missed the ‘carnival atmosphere’ of Easter Sunday morning services, too. My version of heaven is filled with wiggles, giggles, and jelly-bean breath. I missed seeing kids stuffed full of Easter candy, wearing itchy new clothes, packed into an overcrowded church, and expected to sit quietly for over an hour. You can’t get that kind of entertainment on TV.

This year was different. This year we must be smart. We must be safe. We must stay healthy.

So perhaps this was not my favorite Easter. In fact, this was the worst Easter I can ever remember, and my 93-year-old father says it’s the saddest Easter of his life. But our inconvenience and our disappointment are small prices to pay for protecting our loved ones and our neighbors from this pandemic.

Why do you search for the living among the dead? He is not here. He is risen!

I’m reminded that the first Easter was a pretty quiet affair, and the group was smaller than 10 persons. Still, our salvation is secure. Without fanfare. Without cymbals. Without trumpets. We are saved.

Let’s have a joyous Easter season and remain a grateful people!

(And maybe next year we can have that Easter Parade and you can wear your bonnet with all the frills upon it)

Peace,

Denis

Good Grief, It’s Good Friday!

Hard to believe that today is Good Friday. I thought that the saying was “time flies when you’re having fun”. Nothing seems like too much fun right now. And here it is – Good Friday. Another year has gone by.

I’m on a bit of an emotional roller coaster. Today marks one year since our Mom passed away. Holy Week was important to her and to our family. Watching Holy Thursday Mass yesterday on my i-Pad just didn’t feel quite right. I’m grateful for the technology and I wouldn’t want to put anyone at risk by attending Triduum services, but still…

So I’m grieving today. Missing Mom. Missing Holy Week. Missing our friends. Missing my family, especially our children and grandchildren. Worried about our Dads in their isolation.

I’m grieving for friends and family that have recently lost loved ones. There can be no funerals. No gatherings. No holding on to one another. Just plans for memorials “in the future”. I’m grieving today for the nearly 100,000 victims of COVID-19 worldwide. Many of these souls will remain faceless, nameless statistics. God help us. God be with us.

Lucy (of Peanuts fame) often would exclaim, “Good grief!”. Her ire was always reserved for poor hapless Charlie Brown. After she would shout at him, his response was often an exasperated, “Good grief” in return.

Good grief – what a funny expression. What is good about grief?

I’ve been struggling with this and praying about it. I’ve come to the conclusion that grief indeed can be a good thing. It can be healing. It can be cleansing. Certainly no one wants to grieve. Surely no one wants to deal with loss. But grief allows us to own our feelings. Grief allows us to love beyond death. And everyone must grieve in their own way; in their own time.

I suppose Good Friday is a good day to grieve. If we’re Christians we can grieve the suffering of our Savior today.

Regardless of our belief traditions, it’s okay to cry. It’s okay to breakdown a little. It’s normal to want to hold on to those whom we love. It’s human to feel the pain when we know that we must let go. But we can also be assured that death is not the end. Our loved ones remain with us in spirit. We see them in the sunrise and the sunset. We see them in the stars at night and in the clouds by day. We hear them in the songs of birds and the rustling of leaves. We feel them in gentle breezes and the warmth of the sun on our skin.

And if remembering and loving them until it hurts is grief, then I suppose it is good.

Peace,

Denis

Letting Go

Have you ever had to retrace your steps?

Maybe it’s a senior moment because it happens more often as I get older. I start to walk into a room for some reason and then almost immediately I can’t remember why. So I stop and return to where I started, hoping to trigger whatever thought it was that made me enter into that room to begin with. I suppose it’s good exercise but not really all that productive . Or perhaps I’ve lost something and I return to where I remember last seeing it. I literally retrace my steps to see if I might discover where the item was misplaced. “Where did I put my glasses?” is a common theme for me.

It’s human nature, I suppose, to want to hang on to those necessary thoughts and those necessary things. I need to know where I’m going and why. And I need my glasses to see whatever it is I’m going to be doing when I get there.

But Jesus asks us to let go. Lent is a usually thought of as time to give up something. This year, during this pandemic, even more so. What I really need to give up is my need for control. This is easier said than done. As I am struggling to wrap my head around Covid-19 and all of the repercussions of this deadly virus, I feel that I need whatever control I have left. During a normal Lenten Season surrendering to God’s plan is challenging. This year it is downright frightening. What is happening??!! Jesus, how can I let go??!!

In his book, “How Big Is Your God?”, Paul Coutinho writes “a consequence of my life with God is essentially a dying, a giving up, and a self-emptying.” He goes on to say, “Jesus promised to give us inner freedom, joy, and happiness that no one and nothing can take away from us, even in the midst of tremendous pain, suffering, sickness, and death.”

What holds me back? The challenge is thinking about what I need to leave behind.

Is it comfort? Is it fear? Is it pride? Is it hate? Is it anger? Is it anxiety? Is it my need for perfection? Is it my self-righteousness?

The frightening part is the actual leaving behind.

The strain of having to distance myself from my loved ones. Worry for our son who has lost his job in the restaurant industry. The constant concern for my 93 year-old father and 88 year-old father-in-law who are both at high risk. Dealing with the disappointment of cancelled events. Frustration with the lack of leadership in our state and in our nation. Struggling with the uncertainty of my employment. Trying to ignore the foreboding feeling of “who might be next?”. The nearly constant reassurances of “we’ll be fine”, that I both give and receive, which seem grossly inadequate.

And yet, I have to let it go. I have to leave it all behind. How else can I empty myself and wholly embrace the desert experience?

This is exactly why I need Lent. Especially this year. Maybe my journey is meant to be a struggle. A challenge. A reminder that God loves me as I am: worried; woefully unprepared; hopeless; helpless; vulnerable.

We are made in God’s image, but our humanity requires that we accept and even embrace our limitations and our sinfulness. We must accept the fact that because we have free will, we can choose to love God or not. Faith is a choice. Lent should be an opportunity not a burden.

Coutinho talks about how once we let go we are then free to swim in the ‘River of the Divine’. I love these words but I struggle to put this into action. Most days I feel pretty distant from anything divine.

Making sacrifices during Lent is not a bad thing. Giving to charity and serving others is certainly admirable. I read somewhere recently that we will need a “Letter of Recommendation” from the poor in order to get into heaven. I can pray for others during my isolation. Kindness costs nothing. Doing something positive can help combat these feelings of futility. If this time of trial helps me to get to the “desert” I should be thankful. Only there can I face my temptations and acknowledge my weaknesses. Then after I empty myself of pride, I can retrace my steps, jump into that ‘River of the Divine’ and be healed once more.

Peace,

Denis

When Doing Nothing Is Doing Something

These are strange times we’re living in. COVID-19 (the corona virus) has changed our world. For most of us there is a feeling of utter helplessness. Compound that with fear and anxiety about what is yet to come and a steady dose of misinformation and it’s a real recipe for disaster.

What can I do? What should I do? How long will this last? Is this just the beginning? What about my older friends and relatives? What about my kids and grandkids? Hell, what about me!!??

Depending on your news source, the information you receive may differ from your neighbor’s. Depending on your job and employer, you may be without work or you may be working remotely. Depending on your age and general physical condition, you may or may not be a serious health risk. But no one seems to know exactly what to do/who to believe/what to expect.

Here’s what we know:

  • Wash your hands.
  • Social distance – keep six feet apart from any other person.
  • Avoid being in groups greater than ten.
  • Stay home (if you can).
  • Be patient.

We also know:

  • Healthcare workers are our heroes.
  • Law enforcement and first responders CANNOT work from home.
  • Many people will be unemployed for an unforeseeable future.
  • Prayer helps (even if we’re just praying for patience).

I jokingly told my daughter earlier today that I’m in ‘Day Three’ of my captivity. And that’s really kind of how it feels. I’m more about action than contemplation. I’m restless and I need to be doing something. But right now doing nothing is doing something. I’m potentially saving lives by restricting my activities.

“hero of [covad-19]” Maxim Fomenko 2020 – Germany

There has been a tremendous amount of caring and love and creativity in our world during this pandemic. Folks are posting positive messages on social media to lighten our moods. Local grocery stores have established “seniors only” shopping hours to reduce traffic in their stores. Virtual prayer groups are being formed. Artists are creating works to honor heroes and provide beauty and light amidst our bleakness. Nothing can erase the heartache of those who have lost loved ones as a result of this deadly virus. No amount of good cheer and patience will completely relieve the suffering of those who are struggling with poor heath or financial disaster. And yet, kindness, compassion, and gentleness will ease the pain of those who are suffering.

Each of us can do something by doing nothing. Stay home. Stay healthy. Stay hopeful.

And when your self-imposed exile starts driving you a bit batty, read a book, write a letter, make a phone call, post a blog.

Peace,

Denis

Judging

I’ve heard friends say, “don’t judge me!” when they’re involved in some questionable activity or embarrassing behavior. Or I’m sometimes scolded with “stop judging others!” when I feel the need to assert my superiority/intelligence/breeding/better fashion sense over someone else.

The assumption here of course is that my opinion matters. Not likely.

Judgment, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing. I’m certain that judgment has saved me from a possible mugging or an obnoxious salesperson on occasion. God gave me reason for a reason. I try to know my surroundings, understand who I’m dealing with, and steer clear of dangerous situations or unwanted circumstances. But that’s not the kind of judgment that gets me into trouble.

I judge people who I perceive don’t share my views on politics, culture, religion, art, child-rearing, personal hygiene, etc. If folks would just realize that I’m pretty good at everything and smarter than the average person, life would be much easier. I know a lot and I like being in charge. And most of the time, I don’t even have to hear one word from the “judged”, I can judge them by what they look like, how old they are, the way they dress, the car they drive, where they live, what they eat and where they worship. I am really good at this!

I’m particularly good at judging myself. That voice in my head is often saying,“that was a stupid idea” or “you’re too old, too tired, too fat”. And don’t forget regret. Regret is the ‘Ghost of Judgment Past’. “What were you thinking when you bought that Pinto in 1977?” “Why didn’t you apply yourself in school?” “Why aren’t you better prepared for retirement? “Why weren’t you kinder, more loving, more everything?”

My beautiful wife Debbie often reminds me, “Judge not, lest ye be judged” or something like that from her Southern Baptist upbringing. Then I feel ashamed – which is sort of like self-judgment on steroids.

But here’s what I’ve learned (also from my beautiful wife): LOVE IS THE ANSWER. Love mitigates judgment. Love makes it possible to accept someone as they are. Love allows me to accept my own imperfections. Love allows me to be loved.

Deb, Jesus and others keep giving me second chances. Everyday I have new opportunities to be more loving and less judgmental. Every encounter is a new chance to be a reconciling presence in this world. Okay, so maybe I’m not really the smartest guy out there but I am loved. And that’s a good place to start.

Peace,

Denis

Mercy

This week we attended a three-night talk by a Jesuit priest named Joe Laramie. On the first evening, Father Laramie asked each of us to place a hand on our heart and to keep it there for thirty beats. We were asked to consider both our physical and emotional state. Am I happy, sad…? And then to tell Jesus about it. “Lord, right now I feel…”

All I could think was, “Lord, I am tired.” I’m tired of trying to adapt to the restructuring in my workplace. I’m tired of trying to please my customers and my co-workers. I’m tired of listening to the lies of our president. I’m tired of the mistreatment of refugees and asylum seekers. I’m tired of the abuse of women and children. I’m tired of seeing my father’s health continue to decline. I’m tired of fighting with doctors and insurance companies. I’m tired of being surrounded by perceived enemies.

And I’m angry. I’m very angry.

So here I am sitting in church, listening to this Jesuit talk to us about giving and receiving forgiveness and I can’t possibly begin to forgive anyone. Least of all myself.

In her book “Hallelujah Anyway”, Anne Lamott wrote, “Mercy, grace, forgiveness and compassion are synonyms, and the approaches we might consider taking when facing a great big mess, especially the great big mess of ourselves – our arrogance, greed, poverty, disease, prejudice.

During this Lenten season I am once again reminded that mercy is freely given by God and that even in my fatigue and anger I am an unworthy recipient of that grace. I don’t earn mercy by giving up something for Lent. I don’t gain forgiveness by praying extra hard. I am not afforded compassion because I am holy and pious. So therefore I mustn’t expect others to earn my forgiveness by meeting some standard of worthiness.

I guess I should start by forgiving myself for being so obtuse. That seems like a good place to start.

Peace (and mercy),

Denis

I Rise Again From Ashes

Traditionally most Catholic Christians go to Mass today and have a cross smudged on their foreheads with ashes – an outward sign of our mortality. Ironically at Ash Wednesday Mass we hear Matthew’s Gospel tell us, “Do not look gloomy like hypocrites” “wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting”. I’ve always found this somewhat puzzling. Matthew tells us, “your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you” but we dutiful Catholics march off proudly showing our ashes to all who can see.

I usually give up something for Lent. Often I am grumbling as loud as my stomach – I need a hamburger! Still, to do without some nonessential that I love seems like a reasonable sacrifice and it might help put me in a more prayerful frame of mind. And yet, skipping desert or giving up my favorite cocktail is hardly ‘suffering as Christ suffered’. I’d prefer to think that fasting and abstaining from food and luxuries will give me a physical emptiness that might make me more keenly aware of my spiritual emptiness.

I need to stop talking. I need to stop feeding my mind with endless noise. I need to stop over-thinking. Once I’m empty, truly empty and once I’m quiet, truly quiet then perhaps I can be filled with the Holy Spirit. During that nano-second of time when I finally let go of EVERYTHING, God can reach me. God is always there but I am rarely available. Letting go and letting God. This is scary territory. I like to be a man of action. Sitting around and waiting for God to touch me in some simple or profound way is very unsettling. I don’t usually think that I have time for that!

As a father, I’ve always prayed that my children (and grandchildren) would have a humbling experience. A reminder that they are not always going to get their way or have their say. Nothing that would crush their spirits but some setback or disappointment that would make them realize that they need others; that they need God. And that they will rise again to do great things with great love.

For me Lent is my humbling experience. I realize that I need this time each year to reflect on my weakness; my sinfulness; my need for forgiveness; my need for others and my need for God. So, during this Lenten season I need to be still. I need to be present. I need to open my heart and my soul. And wear my ashes humbly.

It would be much easier to give up that hamburger. 

Peace,

Denis

This Little Light of Mine

On Saturday as I was watching our granddaughter Anna play basketball I marveled at her spirit. She is the smallest player on her team. Most of the girls that she encounters on opposing teams are much bigger than she. Some seem twice her size. And yet, there she was giving it her all. She has such grace and determination.

Anna knows she is tiny. Anna understands her physical limitations. Anna realizes that she can be out-distanced and out-played by most other sixth graders. Recently she told me that she knows she’s not a great basketball player but that she loves to play and she loves her teammates. It touched my heart to hear this. I wanted to tell she was a great player – the best! I wanted to hold her and tell her that she was a superstar. But there was no need. Anna is a realist and much smarter than I. Anna knows herself.

So on Saturday she was undaunted and joyful and just loving the game. There she was making rebounds and fighting for jump balls and letting her light shine through it all.

It occurred to me (again) that Anna has a light that shines through in everything that she does. Her beauty emanates from deep within her soul. That I am allowed to experience God’s loving embrace through Anna is part of why I marvel when I am in her presence. What a gift!

So this is my hope and prayer:

Anna never be diminished by your size. Know that God has great things in store for you and will expect great things from you. Remember to only measure yourself against yourself. Always be the best that you can be. If you need examples of strength and beauty and love you needn’t look further than your mother and grandmothers.

Anna never let your light stop shining! You are my superstar.

Your light must shine before others ~ Matthew 5:16

Peace,

Denis

Take My Hand

“Take my hand.” It’s such a simple phrase. It can be delivered as a command. Many times with my children and grandchildren it is imperative that they must ‘take my hand’. It guards against danger – traffic or crowds or unfamiliar surroundings. It can be offered as a gesture of kindness or friendship. Please ‘take my hand’ and I will help you along the way over rough terrain or an uncertain future. It can be a request. ‘Take my hand’ and help me, steady me, hold me, give me strength and the courage to continue on.

For me, it has mostly been an expression of love. ‘Take my hand’ and join our souls. Walk with me on this journey of life.

I have been blessed beyond measure. I have a wife of 45 years who is still the light and love of my life. I have three grown children who amaze me and challenge me and love me as much as I love them. I have five grandchildren who fill my life with love and joy and laughter; they give me hope for the future. I have friends and family who give tirelessly of themselves and bring balance to my life.

Each of them – all of them, have held my hand; have strengthened me; have pulled me up from the depths of despair. They have held my hand in times of joy and sorrow. We have clasped hands in times of immeasurable happiness. I have felt their heartbeats pulsing through my own veins. They have rescued me from mundane annoyance and incomprehensible pain. All of this by simply ‘taking my hand’.

As a child I held my parents hands. Whether crossing the street or being consoled, I felt protection in that hand. I was rescued from fear and uncertainty with the simple gesture of having my hand held. Now with aged fathers, Deb and I often find ourselves holding their hands. The roles have reversed in a way. The protection that our Dads’ afforded us is now being returned by steadying old hands that need support, tenderness and guidance.

I believe in a higher power. I believe in a God who has brought these loved ones into my life. I know when they ‘take my hand’ it is God’s hand holding mine. Each of these people is bringing Christ to me.

My prayer is that I can be allowed to be Christ to them as well. God rescues each of us; sometimes we just need a hand.

Peace,

Denis

The Perfect Gift

Through the years, I have tried to find the “perfect gift” at Christmas. Countless hours have been spent searching for the one thing that will make the recipient completely overjoyed – the one thing that would make their Christmas complete.

Truth be known, I’ve had mixed results. Reactions have ranged from “oh my goodness!” to “you shouldn’t have spent so much!” to “thanks, but I already have one.” to “oh, this isn’t really what I wanted.”

Exchanging gifts at Christmas can be exhausting – physically, mentally and financially. Exchanging gifts at Christmas can be disappointing – for both for the giver and the receiver. A few years ago my lovely wife learned from some wise sage (or someone on Pinterest) that when purchasing gifts you should follow the ‘Four Gifts’ rule: Something they want; something they need; something to wear; something to read. This has served us well with our grandchildren. Usually amongst the four gifts is something wonderful but still not the “perfect gift’.

I’m blessed to be lay member (a Partner) of the Sisters of The Most Precious Blood of O’Fallon, Missouri. As Partners, we join the Sisters in trying to bring Christ’s reconciling presence to those we encounter in our daily lives. Because 2020 is the 175th anniversary of the founding of the order, “All is Gift” was chosen as the theme for this milestone year. It reflects the Sisters’ openness to accept all with a grateful heart. I’m trying to learn to do that as well.

I recently read something that Pope Francis wrote, “The true gift to us is Jesus, and like him we seek to be gifts to others. It means becoming daily a gift freely given to those we meet on our own path.” You don’t have to be a pope or a nun or a priest or even remotely holy to do that. Even a knucklehead like me can give himself to others.

Take time. Listen. Love. That might just be the perfect gift. And I won’t even have to wrap it.

Blessings on your journey to Christmas.

Peace,

Denis