Saints and Angels

Below is a text exchange I had today with our teenage granddaughter. “Teenage granddaughter”. I still hold my breath a little when I say those words. That tiny baby girl who I held in my arms just moments ago is a teenager. But today I got a glimpse of the woman she is becoming: strong and smart and loving and faithful.

Here’s our exchange:

Me: We honor Mary’s parents, Anna and Joachim, as saints. We celebrate the joint feast day of Jesus’ grandparents on July 26th. Their love for one another and for Mary is an example to us of how God calls us to live. They also remind us to honor our own grandparents and to thank them for the blessings they have passed down to us in love. Happy Feast Day Anna! (I have to admit that part about honoring your grandparents was blatantly self-serving but I sent it anyway.)

She: I am greatly blessed to have you and Nana as my grandparents and today I am especially reminded of that. I love you.

Those words: I am greatly blessed… and I love you.

Just when the world seems to be too much to bear. Just when I’m not sure if I’m even fit for humanity. Just when I can’t seem to find a kind word or a kind thought, there she is. My girl. My teenager. She softens my roughness. She calms my restlessness. She looks past my ugliness. She ignores my mean-spiritedness. She digs deep and finds the love and beauty and truth that I sometimes keep buried deep under the angst of everyday living. But she finds it! She lifts my spirit and she soothes my soul.

And I am greatly blessed. And I am loved.

Peace,

Denis

What, why, when, where, how?

We have two of our granddaughters, aged 5 and 7, staying with us for three weeks this summer. It has been a lot. A lot of fun. A lot of laughs. A lot of ice cream. A lot of laundry. A lot of love. A lot of questions.

You forget sometimes when you are an adult to ask questions. I mean we already know everything anyway, right? What is there to learn? We’ve been there and done that. We stand by our convictions and our restrictions and God help anyone who tries to get us to open our eyes (or minds) to new ideas or experiences. And please don’t make me learn anything new. My brain is old and tired and full.

Sadly, there is a loss of fascination and wonder as you age. And I am guilty of not-wanting-to-know-anything-else! Ignorance is bliss. I don’t have to be responsible for anything if I don’t know how my irresponsibility contributes to the pain or suffering in our world. I believe in God (most days) but there was a long stretch during the Trump administration that made me doubt His (Her) existence. So much hate. So much darkness. So much divisiveness.

But my granddaughters are full of wonder. They ask questions about EVERYTHING. They force me to think about the whys and wherefores. They force me to take off my blinders. Their innocence and joyfulness and energy reminds me that I need to be more mindful of my responsibility as a human being. Their curiosity rekindles my need to better understand what is happening in my neighborhood, my church, my country and my world. I cannot afford to be a silent bystander when there is so much to be done. There is such a need for compassion and love in this world and I can do my small part.

On those days when I curse my fellow humans and stick my head in the sand I will try to remember that my granddaughters desire a better future. I must stay hopeful and faithful. I must keep asking questions. What can I do to help others? Why is there so much hate in our world? When will we learn to love one another? Where can I find hope and strength? How do I improve myself, my neighborhood, my church, my country and my world?

Nadia Bolz-Weber wrote a prayer that includes: “And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. Deliver us from the inclination that we do not have evil in our hearts. Deliver us from religious and national exceptionalism. Deliver us from addiction and depression. Deliver us from self-loathing. Deliver us from self-righteousness. Deliver us from high fructose corn syrup. Deliver us from a complete lack of imagination about where you are in our lives and how you might already be showing up. Deliver us from complacency. Deliver us from complicity.

As I read her prayer I realize that I too need to be delivered. I need to be delivered from my self-assuredness and pride and I need to start asking some questions. I need to ask the ones that are especially hard to ask – like where is God in my life? I need to learn to be patient with myself as I search for those answers. I also need to let go. I need to stop carrying the weight of anger and resentment. I need to unload those obstacles that consume so much of my energy and brain activity. Then perhaps I can wonder and wander. And maybe even carry someone else’s load for awhile. After all, isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?

Peace,

Denis

The link below will take you to Nadia Bolz-Weber’s complete prayer

https://thecorners.substack.com/p/sunday-prayers-october-25th-2020

Creation and Rebirth

Recently my 13 year-old granddaughter Anna and I were having a discussion about the Earth and about creation. I listened and marveled at her wisdom and her intelligence, as she told me that all the water on the Earth has been here since the Earth began. She explained that all life begins in water. Rain that falls on us now and fills our oceans, lakes and rivers is absorbed into the atmosphere and returns to us again as rain or snow. The rain that falls on my garden today is the same rain that nourished my grandfather’s farmland and replenished the oceans that carried my forbearers to this country. These are same oceans where life began which allowed creatures to evolve and crawl onto the land. These oceans created the same rain that ultimately fell on the first man and the first woman. Such is the majesty of creation.

We also talked about how humans have only been on this Earth a small fraction of the time that the planet has existed. She told me that the Creation Story in the Bible is not necessarily a literal interpretation of how life began. Our Creator’s “days” should not be measured in human days. When I asked her how she became so wise at such a tender age, she reminded that I had once explained our Creator’s “days” to her when she was younger and that it makes sense to her now not to limit God in human terms. All those years ago she listened and remembered. I am humbled.

She is concerned about humankind’s harm to our environment and I share that concern. Global warming which is caused mainly from human activities such as burning fossil fuels, deforestation and farming should not have to weigh on a precious 13 year-old’s psyche but unfortunately it does. Still, she is a positive, energetic teenager who sees possibilities where others only see hopelessness. I am inspired.

I love this time of year when flowers begin blooming and trees and lawns turn green again. This year I am thinking about rebirth. Not just in the little buds and blossoms. Not only in the songs of the birds and the scampering of the bunnies in our garden. But in the rebirth of Creation. We are stewards of this Earth. Where I have failed, my hope is that Anna will prevail. So to honor my granddaughter I will tend my gardens without pollutants, I will recycle, I will repurpose, I will vote for pro-environment candidates.

Whether you believe in a Creator Being or you believe that our planet is a cosmic phenomenon, it shouldn’t diminish your wonder at the majesty of the Earth. The next time you’re caught in the rain think about your ancestors being bathed in the same downpour. And pray that your great-great-great grandchildren can dance in that same rain.

Peace,

Denis

God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good. Evening came, and morning followed. Genesis 1:31

Saint Joseph

As a father, I have a strong devotion to Saint Joseph – the patron saint of all fathers. I have been blessed with three incredible children. I realize that I’m not in their league in terms of intelligence, ability, and achievement. And yet, God decided to bless me with these three.

I rely on Saint Joseph to help me. He knew the overwhelming responsibility of fatherhood. He understood the love of a father that is so strong and at the same time so tender it cannot be described in mere words. He certainly must have felt ill-equipped, at times, to deal with Jesus. I could write volumes about my ineptitude as a father. I take for granted that my children understand that they are in my heart so deeply that everyday I am blessed by their very existence. But I’m not sure I always show them by my actions. Sometimes no matter how hard I try – I fail. I do the wrong thing. Or I behave unkindly. Or forget to say “I love you”. God gave me Saint Joseph to reach out to when I make a mess of things.

We know little about Joseph. We know that he had doubts. We also know that he said yes. He protected Mary and Jesus. Joseph is often depicted as an old man. But I believe Joseph was young when Jesus was born like I was when my kids came along. A worker. A teacher. A companion. A dad. Frightened but courageous. Ill prepared but undaunted. Beleaguered but unrelenting.

My prayers always include my children and my grandchildren but while asking God to protect them, I sometimes forget to thank God. So thank you God! You did a great job creating these beautiful humans. And God, thanks for letting me have a hand in it, too. And thanks especially for giving me St. Joseph as a model of fatherly love, patience, and devotion. Today I also pray for my son and son-in-law as they chart their course through the waters of fatherhood. I ask St. Joseph to be by their side.

Peace,

Denis

Saint Joseph, pray for us!

The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Matthew 2:13

Looking for God in the Darkness

Come Be My Light, a book that collected many of Mother Teresa’s most personal and private correspondence, was published ten years after her death. Her letters revealed that for the last 50 years of her life she had been afflicted with a deep sense of God’s absence; her “dark night”. The revelation that Saint Teresa of Calcutta suffered in her spirituality is startling but I find some comfort in it.

How many times have I felt abandoned by God? How many times have I prayed for God’s strength and felt powerless?  How many times have I faced hardship, disappointment, loss or pain and felt completely alone; my own “dark night”? How often have I wondered if God hears my prayers at all? If Jesus really exists why does He not answer my pleas? 

Contemplating Teresa’s inability to feel God’s presence in her life is an opportunity for me to model her faith during my most desperate times. When I am adrift in my desert of doubt and loneliness, when I question God’s very existence, I can look to Teresa’s example of faith and know that God is with me; even in my darkest hours.

I know that when I can’t pray; when I can’t feel Christ’s presence I have family and friends that are praying on my behalf.  We are called to be the Body of Christ; to be Christ to one another. I know that I’m going to continue to struggle through my own “dark night” from time to time. But even when I feel abandoned, I try to remember that I have each of you lighting my way. So to those of you who pray for me, have prayed for me, or will pray for me – thank you for leading me through the darkness to His holy night.

Peace,

Denis

Heartbreak and Hope

Last week we had the mundane task of shopping at a big box store. You know the place, where you can get toilet paper and toys and t-shirts and televisions. We had time to kill so went spent more time than usual and dawdled at the barbeque grills, smokers, and outdoor grills – fascinating stuff they sell for the backyard these days. It wasn’t an altogether unpleasant experience. That is until we paid for our “necessities” and headed toward the door.

There was a young couple just in front of us with a baby in their shopping cart who was greeted by a woman in a tie-dyed t-shirt. I thought at first it must have been a friend waiting for them but then I realized she had a police officer at her side. She greeted the couple with, “I’m store security. I need you turn around and go back into the store with me now.”

My heart sank. The young woman turned beet red. The young man looked clueless (was he? or was it an act?) And the baby? Sweet innocence. There was no protest. They just turned and walked back into the store sullenly and shamefully. The dad in me had the urge to yell out, “I’ll pay for whatever it was!” But I didn’t. Perhaps I was afraid. Maybe I figured that it wouldn’t solve their problem. Besides the undercover security officer and the cop didn’t really look like they were the negotiating types. Regardless we walked out of the store as they walked back in. And I kept thinking that could be my daughter or my son.

I haven’t been able to shake that encounter out of my mind. The young couple. The baby. I have a million questions. Were they so desperate that shoplifting was their only hope of survival? Was it just a kick – some kind of thrill perhaps? Were they feeding an addiction or just trying to feed their baby? What would become of them and their baby? I can’t (and won’t) judge them. I know that stealing is wrong. I realize it is crime to take what is not yours. But how is one’s self-esteem brought so low that this happens? How has society (that includes me) failed them? I’ve been praying for them since.

I hope that the courts show mercy. I hope that this a wake-up call for the young parents. I hope that the baby retains no memory of that shameful experience. I hope and I pray for all those who are desperate and in need of compassion.

During Lent we are encouraged to repent. The word we translate as ‘repent’ – metanoia – means ‘change of heart’ or to live life with your belief in the Good News of the Gospel. Nice sentiment and easy to say but where is the Good News for those in trouble? Where is the Good News for those on the fringe of society? Where is the Good News for the hopeless ? The hungry? The prisoner? The outcast?

I’ll start by trying to refrain from judgement of others. Mercy is a gift that I can freely give. Kindness can be shown to everyone I encounter. That’s a first step towards my change of heart. And I will continue to pray for that young couple and ask God to forgive me for my blindness to others’ pain. I pray that there is always hope even amidst heartbreak.

Peace,

Denis

Transfigured

Merriam-Webster tells us that to be transfigured means, “to change a thing into a different thing.” In today’s Gospel we hear of Jesus’ transfiguration. Peter, James and John witnessed with astonishment Jesus together with Moses and Elijah. It’s fitting that this reading comes to us during Lent. This is our time to be transfigured.

I don’t suppose my clothes (or yours for that matter) will become dazzling white. I also don’t expect you or I to be seated with Moses or Elijah. But we can be transfigured. We can change into something different, into someone different. I can use this time during Lent to change my heart.

My dear friend Mary sent me a simple but beautiful message this past week: “Fast from anger, and be filled with patience”. Simple and profound but not easy. Not easy for me because I like to hold on to my anger. I need my indignation. That anger can sustain me; it can justify my intolerance. That anger can empower me; it can make my hatred seem righteous.

But that anger can also destroy me; it can steal my soul; it can sap my spirit. It can become part of who I am.

The story of the Transfiguration in Mark’s Gospel is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ death and resurrection. But did his disciples really have any clue about what they had witnessed? Were they as confused about Jesus’s impact on their lives as I often find myself? Jesus is a good guy and he’s all about love and forgiveness. I love his parables. I am amazed by the miracles he performed. I am in awe of his acceptance of everyone, even sinners like me. But he’s also God. When I meditate on the Transfiguration of Jesus, I realize that my future is in his hands and I need to surrender. I need to let go of my pride and anger and hate. I need to be different. I need to be transfigured. I need to be a better man.

So during this Lenten journey I will try to change into someone different. I will try to “fast from anger”. And when I fail (which is likely), I will try again because my God is the God of second chances. And third and fourth and…

Peace,

Denis

Jesus took Peter, James, and John 
and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them, 
and his clothes became dazzling white.
Mark 9:2-3

Running On Empty

Ash Wednesday marked the beginning of Lent. Most years I try to “give something up” to honor the sacrifice that Christ made for all of us. This year I’m struggling more than ever. Somehow the usual desserts or alcohol or cussing that I try (and fail) to refrain from just seems like more than I can handle. Because of the pandemic I have given up too much this past year. I just don’t think I can afford to give up one more thing. I miss seeing my Dad at his assisted living facility. I miss sons who live out of state. I miss my daughter-in-law. I miss my granddaughters and most especially kissing their sweet faces. I miss hugging my friends – somehow the elbow taps or fist bumps or “air hugs” just don’t cut it.

So here it is, Lent. Time for my Lenten journey. Time to “take up my cross” and make my sacrifices. I just want to say no! No more. Nothing left to give. I’m completely empty. I’m out. Try me next year.

Maybe I really won’t give up anything. Because you know poor me, who has sacrificed so much, really deserves a year off.

And then I am met by angels. Friends who humble me by their prayer and devotion. Family members who inspire me by their spirituality and love of God and all creation. Grandchildren who love me unconditionally and who offer me glimpses of heaven. My wife who has the patience of a saint and should be canonized one day just for the miracle of putting up with me for decades.

What can a poor, sorry, selfish sinner do? Well, first I can leave the pity party. Then I can start praying. And then I can try that again because I feel like bitching and moaning during prayer doesn’t accomplish much. And then I can remember something a new friend shared with me this week. It’s okay to bring all the noise with you into your prayer. All the distractions. All the discomforts. All the sadness. All the pain. And just hand it over to God.

So that’s what I’ve decided to give up for Lent this year (and hopefully forever), trying to be holy and focused and perfect in my prayer. I’m giving it up because I give up. And maybe when I’m completely empty my soul can be filled with the love of God.

And a drink and a dessert and cussword or two this Lenten season will just be as it should be.

Peace,

Denis

Waiting in Line

This year it seems there are lines wherever I go. Waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store. Waiting in line at the drive-through restaurant. Waiting in line outside of the DMV. Waiting in line for a Covid-19 test. Waiting in line. Patiently. Six feet apart.

Recently when I was grousing about all the ‘waiting-in-line’ my beautiful wife remembered that when she was a secretary at a parish in Wisconsin, Sister Dorothy with whom she worked, always told her, “The poor must wait in line.”

The poor must wait in line. Wait in line for healthcare at over-worked and under-staffed clinics; wait in line for food at pantries which are often depleted before they can be served; wait in line for shelter and a safe place to rest; wait in line for refuge and asylum from violence; wait in line for justice.

During Advent I wait. I wait for the coming of Christ in my heart. As Catholic Christians we are supposed to have a “preference for the poor”. I seldom think about what those words truly mean.  “As followers of Christ, we are challenged to make a fundamental ‘option for the poor’—to speak for the voiceless, to defend the defenseless, to assess lifestyles, policies and social institutions in terms of their impact on the poor”.

Perhaps this year is a good time to reflect on my own spiritual poverty. Maybe I can stand in line in solidarity with my poor sisters and brothers. Maybe I can do my small part to ease the suffering of so many. When I throw those few coins into the Salvation Army bucket I will pray for the poor person who may receive some part of my small gift. When I donate food to a pantry I will ask God to bring blessing to whomever may be nourished by that meal. When I give to charity this year I will try to put a face on the person who will benefit from my donation and pray that they are afforded dignity while being served. I will support candidates and causes that serve the under-served in our nation.

This has been a year of waiting-in-line. And if I stop complaining and quiet myself during my wait, I might just catch a glimpse of heaven this Advent season. I hope that you do as well.

Peace,

Denis

Be Watchful; Be Ready

During the four weeks of Advent we are supposed to be waiting for Jesus. And most years I am too busy to settle myself into contemplation of Christ’s coming. But this year is different. We are shopping on line. All the Christmas baking is done. The house is already decorated. We are not traveling. We are not entertaining.  There are few gifts to wrap because everything is being delivered by Amazon. And still I find little time for Jesus. So it seems all my “too busy” excuses of Christmases past were just rubbish.

This year I have plenty of time to quiet myself and listen for His voice. Instead I grumble about not having MY CHRISTMAS. The Christmas that I WANT with all our extended family; with Christmas cocktail parties; with Christmas concerts; with Christmas pageants; with Christmas shopping. After all isn’t that what Jesus wants, too? You know, normal Christmas with all the pomp and circumstance and just enough time to squeeze in a little “holiness” like Midnight Mass or a Novena to make it all seem sanctified.

But here I am in 2020, with plenty of time to pray and reflect on Christ’s coming: Christ coming into our world as a helpless infant; Christ coming into our world today as the love that surrounds us and sustains us; Christ coming at the end of time to save us and bring us home. I’ve complained about all the disruptions, pain and loss that Covid-19 has brought to our world. And I’ve readily used it as an excuse to not do some things I might have otherwise done. But I cannot use it as an excuse for not celebrating Advent and Christmas this year. I have the time!

I’m certain that the first Christmas wasn’t exactly what Mary and Joseph had planned but events beyond their control forced them to travel to Bethlehem. Mary’s joy was not diminished because she gave birth to Jesus amidst the most humble of circumstances. Neither should our joy be diminished by circumstances beyond our control. The corona virus and all it’s related heartache has had a profound effect on all of us this year but still our Savior comes. Perhaps I can use this time of uncertainty to remain watchful and ready.

Aristotle is credited with saying, “To appreciate the beauty of a snowflake it is necessary to stand out in the cold.” Maybe a cold, harsh winter is what I need. Maybe freezing my backside off will make me appreciate the warmth and beauty of my home and stop my complaining about what I have missed this year.

Mostly I pray that a long cold winter will help me embrace the coming spring and create room in my heart for His love.

Peace,

Denis

Be patient, brothers and sisters,
until the coming of the Lord.
See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth,
being patient with it
until it receives the early and the late rains.
You too must be patient.
Make your hearts firm,
because the coming of the Lord is at hand.

James 5:7-8