Saints and saints

Today our Church celebrates All Saints Day. Yesterday was All Saints Eve or All Hallow’s Eve which in turn has become Halloween. Tradition tells us that many years ago folks dressed up to honor their patron saints. That may well indeed be the origin of Halloween costumes. Most European towns and many American cities have Patron Saints. Many towns and cities are even named after saints – Saint Louis, Saint Paul, San Francisco, to name a few. Even today most Catholics of a certain age bear a saint’s name. There are also patron saints of occupations, afflictions, animals, hobbies, students, mothers, fathers, soldiers, even pawnbrokers.

Why this obsession and fascination with saints? Maybe it’s just hero-worship but I suspect it’s something more. Saints give us an example to live by. Saints give us hope. Saints remind us that we can be “saintly” too. Some saints weren’t always so saintly – Paul for instance or Augustine. Some were poor and simple – San Juan Diego and some were rich and powerful – King Louis of France. But all saints followed the call of Christ. Each in their own way. We can too.

IMG_8629Of course the Church has officially recognized thousands of Saints but what of those who have passed before us that we know in our hearts to be saints? Many of us have beloved parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends and cousins who have walked with Jesus and have been a shining example of His love. Catholic tradition tells us that we can (and should) ask the saints to pray for us; to intercede on our behalf. I find tremendous comfort in knowing that a loving aunt or grandparent might pray for me; might actually be in the presence of God and speak my name.

I honor the Saints today – my patron Denis and Joseph the patron of fathers but mostly I ask the saints with whom I’ve shared my life; those whom I’ve loved; to remember me on this day and every day.

This week our granddaughter’s first grade class held a special prayer service in honor of All Saints Day. Anna was Saint Anne, mother of Mary, grandmother of Jesus. Watching her process down the aisle with all the other “saints” in her class was nothing short of miraculous – a beautiful reminder of the bounty of love and faith in our midst. And once again I was blessed…

Peace,

Denis

Just Be…

Recently I posted on this blog that I joined a spiritually based group that is in partnership with The Sisters of The Most Precious Blood. We are a small group, one of many groups actually, who are partners with the Sisters. Our mission is to be a reconciling presence in our world. Part of that “reconciling presence” involves prayer, another part involves service, and most significantly it involves community.

We are joined together with a common goal: To love as Jesus loves. Sounds easy, right? Wrong!

Helping handsLoving is difficult. At times it’s even hard to love the people who love us. It’s ALWAYS hard to love our enemies. And it’s often harder to be loved. I realize that occasionally I can be pretty unlovable (just ask the people who work for me). Besides being loved means opening up and making yourself accessible to others – that can get messy. So how do I get busy about this business of loving?

I’m learning from the leaders of Partners in Mission that I should stop trying to “do love”. I need to start trying to “be love”. Activities are great. Service to others is admirable and necessary but until I make myself available to others my actions will never be enough. Love is not about busyness. Love is about being present to those around me. And perhaps that’s the scary part. That’s what makes me vulnerable. Just being.

So before I get busy trying to “do love” I’m going to follow the advice of the leaders that I met: first Be, then Do.

Today I read, “Peace is made when there is a place where the stories of the wounds can be told in safety and security, when the stories and the people who tell them are given dignity and respect.” I believe that right now I need to help build that place and then maybe later I can “do” some love. It could get messy but I think it might be worth it. I’ll keep you posted.

Peace,

Denis

 

Reconciling

On Sunday I made a commitment to be a reconciling presence in our world. What does that mean? Truth be told, I’m not completely certain.

Let me explain: After a year of inquiry and another year of formation I have joined the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood as a lay partner. That probably requires further explanation – the “Sisters” are a Catholic religious order dedicated to bringing the reconciling love of Jesus to our world through prayer, service and most notably presence. As a partner, I join in their ministry in some small way. I have made a promise to pray with the Sisters, be part of a small faith group and (in my words) be an agent of change.

ReconcileThe change of course must begin with me. To reconcile means to rebuild; reconnect; to be at peace. I suppose a lofty goal would be to rebuild a broken world but I will have to start a bit more modestly. I’ll try to be more loving; to be a peacemaker; to give respect and dignity to those that I encounter.

This will not be easy. And I will fail more often than I succeed. There will be plenty of days when I will be impatient and unloving. There will be times when I will be an ornery son-of-a-gun. Arrogance, pride and ill temper will impede me. But I will try. And I will fail. And try again.

I believe if I can change my heart and reconcile myself, the rest will be easy. God has blessed me with some amazing examples of love. This is unchartered territory for me but with the beacons of love and hope represented in Mary, Bernie, Helen, Sister Robert Ann, and Sister LaVerne, I think that we might accomplish some great things along the way.

And so my journey continues…

Peace,

Denis

What About The Unholy?

Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. Matthew 16:24

This was part our Sunday readings at Mass this week.  There are any number of ways to reflect on Jesus’ words of caution to Peter in Matthew’s Gospel. The seminarian (priest in-training) at our parish decided to tell us about his personal experience of giving up his potential material success to follow God’s call. He seemed (to me anyway) to be holding himself up as an example of sacrifice. He could have so much more (wife, kids, home & hearth) but instead he’s going to be a priest. Of course because of my cynical nature I’m always a bit suspect of anyone who tells me how much they sacrifice; how holy they are; how worthy they are; etc., etc., etc.

CrossI have been bothered by this message since Sunday. I can’t be a priest. Nor would I want to be. I’m kind of plodding along in my sinfulness as best I can. When I read Matthew’s Gospel and think about “denying myself” I don’t really think that Jesus is saying that I should give up all my stuff and live on the streets. And most of the priests that I know have comfortable housing, full-time cooks, housekeepers, gardeners and laundresses. That’s hardly sacrifice in my book. But I digress.

I’m unholy and I’m a mess most days but the message in Matthew’s Gospel for me is simple: Quit being so sinful. Stop being so selfish. Try to be more loving. Quit expecting more and giving less. Take up the cross of a crying baby in the middle of the night. Take up the cross of a disloyal friend or family member. Take up the cross of an angry customer or boss or employee. Take up the cross of a neglected/neglecting spouse. Take up the cross of a (nearly) unlovable teenager. Take up the cross of poor health. Take up the cross of financial hardships. Take up the cross of disappointments and heartaches. Carry those crosses and still love God. Carry those crosses and still love your neighbor. Carry those crosses and still love yourself.

And follow Jesus…

Peace,

Denis

 

 

Sister Stories

St. Catherine University in Minnesota is inaugurating National Catholic Sisters Week as part of Women’s History Month. Part of the planned events include Sisters telling their own stories.

“In an attempt to record untold stories by women who have served for decades in challenging ministries, St. Catherine is sponsoring a student-led initiative. Students are producing interviews or short films about sisters they know to create an extensive oral history.”

You can read more about here: http://ncronline.org/news/sisters-stories/inaugural-catholic-sisters-week-set-march

I’ve been honored in my life to have heard some Sisters tell their stories. And I have been even more honored by actually being a small part of some of those stories.

Deb with two of our favorite Sisters - Annette & Mary. They visited us when we lived in England.

Deb with two of our favorite Sisters – Annette & Mary. They visited us when we lived in England.

As one of millions that was blessed to be taught by religious Sisters, I thank God for their dedication and guidance that carried me through my grade school and high school years.

As a nephew of three religious Sisters, I thank God for the love that they brought to our family and the remarkable examples that they each gave me. Simple, courageous, faith-filled, loving women – all three.

Some of my very dearest friends are religious Sisters and I have received countless blessings and boundless joy from them. What would my life be like without the vocation and service of these women? Thankfully I will never have to know.

I have three granddaughters and while I don’t know if they will ever become religious Sisters, I do pray that the examples of the women religious that I know and have known will strengthen them on their journeys through life. I hope that they are fortunate enough to hear all of these Sisters’ stories: Courage, compassion, dignity, devotion and love.

What more could I ask for my beautiful girls?

Peace,

Denis

Companions on the Journey

I am not alone. I am never alone. Lately I have been reminded of this truth. This life; this journey is not solitary. God sends us partners. God sends us companions for our journey.

I’ve been on a bit of an emotional roller-coaster in the past few weeks.

Good news: Granddaughters Charlise and Anna are happily in school – 3rd grade and kindergarten. Grandson Noah turns 3 in two weeks and has adjusted to being at home without big sister (and maybe is relishing all the extra attention). Grandchild #4 is due in about a month and is anxiously and joyfully anticipated (another girl). Home projects are near successful completion. Work and travel have been manageable this summer. The St. Louis Cardinals are headed for a pennant race. And next weekend we will join in the celebration of Deb’s Goddaughter’s marriage.

Bad news: My Aunt Loretta passed away unexpectedly. My heart aches for my cousins in their loss. She was always the “life of the party” and she will be dearly missed. Our son Blake was severely burned in a kitchen accident at work 2 weeks ago – hot butter spilled down his foreman. This resulted in third degree burns that have required a skin graft. His recovery will be slow and painful. Still we are thankful for skilled surgeons, a caring and knowledgeable nursing staff, and countless prayers from friends.

All of which makes me realize that I am never alone. Even when I want to just pull the covers over my head and cry out “WHY!”, I am reminded that I have companions on this journey. I can face the bad news; the setbacks; the hardships because my load is lightened by the love and support of those around me.

We never walk alone

We never walk alone

More importantly I am reminded that I can also bring healing and compassion to others as they journey through their lives. Jesus told us to love one another. That doesn’t simply mean “do no harm”. It means that we must reach out to those in need. That we must care. That we must pray. That we must love actively by investing ourselves in the lives of others. And we must allow others to carry our burdens, too. Sometimes our journeys are messy. Often there are detours along the way. But we never walk alone.

God sends us companions for our journey. I am thankful for those who have guided me along my way. And I am humbled by their compassion.

Peace,

Denis

Trying To Be A Servant

Jesus poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist. When he had washed their feet and reclined at table again, he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”  John 13:5, 12-15

In our Catholic tradition we celebrate Holy Thursday with foot-washing during the Eucharist. Last night I was honored (humbled actually) to be a part of our parish’s celebration. We are reminded by Jesus’ example that to truly serve God we must become servants to one another. This seems counter cultural in our society today.

Here in the United States we pride ourselves on being a nation of ‘movers and shakers’; of innovators; of doers; of deciders. We don’t just strive – we achieve. We outlast. We outwit. We out-perform. WE ARE NUMBER ONE!

Nothing says “success” quite like hiring out our mundane tasks. I have a very financially successful friend that frequently says, “I have a guy.” Which means he hires someone to do EVERYTHING while he can devote himself to more important tasks (like amassing more wealth so he can hire more guys). I admit I’m often envious. I can only imagine the sheer joy of handing unpleasant jobs off to another.

community_handsBut Jesus challenges me. How can I be a servant when I so desperately want to be served? This will require some prayer and some much-needed humility. I tried “serving” some people in my office today – offering to get someone a cup of coffee and bringing another their copies from the print room. Their reactions were very revealing. “Why are you doing this?” There was a sense of mistrust and confusion. “Are you joking; what do you really want?” Clearly I need to practice being a servant. I am ashamed that no one was comfortable with me in that role. Perhaps my own discomfort showed through in my weak attempt as a servant. What if my self-confidence is just thinly veiled arrogance and elitism? How will I ever really serve others?

On this Good Friday as I thank Jesus for his ultimate sacrifice, I am keenly aware of how much I still need His forgiveness.

Peace,

Denis

Prepare the Way

Advent 2012 -4A voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”     Luke 3:4-6

Luke’s Gospel is actually recalling the words of the Prophet Isaiah. My personal rule is that any time the New Testament quotes the Old Testament we should probably pay attention because apparently it is something that bears repeating.

During Advent we are called to ‘Prepare the Way’. But what does that mean? This reading always leaves me with images of giant earth-movers, backhoes and dump trucks frantically lowering hillsides and filling in ditches and chasms. But is that what Isaiah had in mind? I don’t think so. I believe that Isaiah was speaking metaphorically. I suspect that some of us are the valleys that need to be filled and others of us are the mountains that need to be toppled. And often, I suppose, we’re a bit of both.

I know that my own arrogance, pride and boastfulness need to be ‘made low’. My heart and spirit could use some ‘filling up’ right now. And of course there is plenty that needs to be ‘straightened out’ and ‘made smooth’.

So this Advent season when I hear those ancient words of Isaiah I am reminded that God is not asking me to fix the world. He is not expecting me to make others walk the straight and narrow. He is speaking only to me about me. He is asking me to prepare myself to receive his Son. To let go of my pride and my sinfulness and to be more loving and giving. God is inviting me once again to be filled with his Spirit. And to prepare myself to revel in the birth of our Savior.

Peace,

Denis

God, Are You Out There?

If you’re anything like me from time to time you probably find yourself asking, “God, are you out there?”  This morning is one of those mornings. I’m in a true-blue funk.  Work has been particularly stressful lately – extremely busy with a staff that has been stretched too thin (apparently this is a trend in businesses today – I’m sure some CEO is making even more money for that idea!); I have a friend that is dealing with a heartbreaking situation with her daughter; Debbie’s dealing with some health issues; and our son’s impending divorce and the consequences of what that will mean to our granddaughter has been keeping me awake nights.  

Not that there haven’t been joyful things happening but sometimes the bad stuff just outweighs the good stuff.  And I start asking, “God, are you out there?”  Of course in due time I realize (remember?) that God is not out there; God is in here.  In me.  And you.  I’ve come to believe that we must be Christ to one another – to share the Holy Spirit dwelling within us.  G0d’s not sitting out there on some mystical cloud looking down with a heavenly ‘remote control’ – “I think I’ll smite Wilhelm today – ha, ha, ha!”  God sent his Son to earth to redeem our sins and the Holy Spirit is with us always – especially when we don’t know it (or feel it).

I try (I really do) to be Christ to others – I mostly fail.  But I am blessed with others who are constantly being Christ to me.  And during these difficult times I will find comfort and solace being in their presence.  When I pray for God’s help, I am always rewarded by an intervention from one of his disciples – right here; right now!

My best friend’s wife, Ronica, is one of those disciples of Christ.  And I doubt that she realizes that she has ever brought Christ to me.  That’s how she is:  self-deprecating, unpretentious, and modest.  She doesn’t like attention (which I really don’t understand – it’s something I crave), she won’t take credit for most of the good that she has done, and she is really kind (especially to old people – which will come in handy for me someday).

Now it’s not that Ronica has had an easy life or has all the answers but she listens – really listens.  And she always puts aside her own heartaches to deal with yours.  I’ve seen her stop to help total strangers, when most of us would just walk on by.  She’s not doing it because she’s some kind of living saint – she just helps people.  And she befriends people that most of us would avoid (or run from!).  She has the uncanny ability to ask an amputee “how they lost it” without being offensive or intrusive.  I just marvel at her! 

What’s most amazing to me is that when you are in need, Ronica will bare her all to help you.  I mean that literally – If I fell down and Ronnie had to show her ass to a roomful of people to help me up off the floor, she would do it without a moment of hesitation.  She will put aside her own vanity or embarrassment to aid a friend (or stranger).  I’ve seen it happen many, many times and I’ve been the welcome recipient a time or two.

I’ve known Ronica for 35 years.  When we first met she was like a lamb; painfully shy and very quiet.  Now she is a like a lioness; brave, loyal and fiercely protective.  Deb and I love to be together will Alan and Ronica – we always share a good time and exercise our ‘laugh’ muscles.  But we’ve been together through some tough times, too.  That’s what friends are for.  And I know that I can always count on their friendship.

Saturday their younger son Dustin was married – what a great day!  During the recitation of the vows, his soon-to-be wife, Jessica was overcome by emotion.  She began to cry and Dustin stopped everything and just held her and allowed her to compose herself – he didn’t care that there was a congregation of people with their mouths gaping open wondering what might happen next.  He just held her in his arms and became Christ for her at that moment.  I couldn’t help but wonder if Ronica knew that she had modeled that behavior for him? 

I know now that when I cry, “God, are you out there?”  He is not.  God is in here.  In Ronica; in Dustin; and hopefully sometimes in me, too. 

Peace,

Denis

Is God a Man or a Woman?

If we are all created in God’s image; what about women?  In Genesis we read, “God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.  Wow, we are made in God’s own image – male and female!  So ‘God the Father’ is just as likely ‘God the Mother’.  Back in 1978, Pope John Paul I said, “We need to call God ‘mother’ as well as ‘father.’ ” And still over 30 years later the Catholic Church continues to disallow women a place at the table.  If God is male and female, then why deny ordination to women?  If God is feminine and masculine why not celebrate God’s femininity as well as his masculinity?  I love the image of God as father/protector but I find equally comforting the image of God as mother/nurturer.  The Church hierarchy appears afraid of either losing control or they think that a female clergy might reveal how deeply our Church has been wounded by the patriarchy currently ‘running the show’.  If these guys were smarter, they would let the women join in to do the ‘heavy lifting’.  The gals could be balancing budgets and dealing with those pesky laypeople while the boys were busy working on their golf games or their homilies (now there’s an opportunity for improvement!). 

It seems to me that if God has ‘gifted’ women with the joy of being co-creators by carrying the world’s future persons in their wombs the least our Church should do is allow them to approach the altar.  The denial of ordination for women suggests that women are still considered second class citizens.  Please don’t misunderstand me:  I know and love some amazing priests and I know and love some dedicated and gifted women religious (nuns) but would it be so bad if one or a thousand of these dedicated religious women became priests?  What are we afraid of?

Women of spirit, love and intelligence have so much to offer our Church and the continued denial by Church hierarchy only adds more wounds to an already wounded Body of Christ.  Years of apostolic scandal and deceit only further alienate a fragmented Church.  The idea of God as ‘mother’ as well as ‘father’ shouldn’t frighten us.  It should liberate us.  If a male-dominated clergy is about control then it stands to reason that an inclusive clergy would be about deliverance.  I will admit that thinking about God as woman is a paradigm shift for most people.  God the Father, after all sits up in the clouds with a long white beard – even Gary Larson the cartoonist believed that.  And a mother-God makes some people fearful because it brings to mind thoughts of witchcraft or sorcery or some New-Age Earth Mother image. 

Perhaps the problem lies not in whether God is a woman or a man but in our human need to make God smaller; to envision God in strictly human form.  It is very limiting to put God in that box. God is not human and can’t be defined in simple human terms.  God’s power and majesty is only equal to God’s love and forgiveness.  Jesus who was human and divine was God’s sacrifice offered for all of us.  Jesus was male but that doesn’t restrict God to only human characteristics.  I personally don’t want a small, limited God.  My God is boundless and eternal.  God is not human; therefore human descriptions of God are always flawed.

I have Evangelical friends that will consider my opinions heresy – I KNOW WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS.  And I have conservative Catholic friends who are convinced that when they’re in Purgatory working off a few thousand years for eating meat on a Friday during Lent, they’ll be looking down at me in HELL for just thinking about this stuff!

I may be all wrong.  I usually am.  But when I get to heaven (oh yes, I’m planning on going there), I will ask God if He/She is male and female.  And then I’ll have an eternity to ‘wrap my head around’ whatever the answer may be.

Peace,

Denis