Rejoice Always? Yes!

Last month I was asked to give a talk on the subject of “Giving thanks to God for all—Blessings and challenges”. For me it seemed a daunting task. I’m much better at complaining about stuff. Or commiserating about about the sorry state of life on our planet. Or bitching about traffic, my neighbors’ dogs, my co-workers, life in general. Poor me!

I turned to Scripture and found in Saint Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, that he tells us to “Rejoice always.” to “Pray without ceasing.” And, “In all circumstances give thanks.”

IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES GIVE THANKS!  Think about that! We must even be thankful for the crappy stuff: Car trouble; burnt toast; a bad hair day; a headache – sometimes all these things happen on the same day.

And we need to be thankful for the trials in our life, too: Career challenges; doubts about our vocations; marital discord; financial difficulties; raising teenagers.

And most difficult (for me) is the heart-breaking stuff: Serious illness; drug or alcohol addiction; divorce; death of a loved one; facing our own mortality.

How can I give thanks in all circumstances? How can any of us?

First, for me it helps to be thankful for the good things. Having an attitude of gratitude takes patience and practice. Instead of blindly accepting all the good things in my life as if I am somehow entitled to them or that I somehow earned the goodness in my life, it helps to remember that our blessings come from God. Many of you are better at this than me – so thank you for your witness.

Secondly, I am reminded of what Fred Rogers is credited as saying on the ‘Mister Roger’s Neighborhood’ television show: He said…

 “When I was a boy I would see scary things in the news and my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.

The idea of course is that even during the most unimaginable of times; during tremendous tragedies or horrific disasters, love can still be found. This doesn’t just make heroes of the helpers but also it reminds us that each of us can make a difference. Even during the darkest of days, we can bring healing to one another.

Finally, it helps me to remember that I am loved and cared for in a thousand little ways each day. I live in communion with others who will carry me when I can longer take another step. I know that I will have a hand to hold; a shoulder to cry on; a friend that I can count on; a God who will never forsake me.

So “Rejoice always.”  “Pray without ceasing.”  And “In all circumstances give thanks.”

This April my Mom passed away. Mom always seemed younger than her 90 years. She was proud, beautiful, strong, well-informed and quick-witted. Mom wasn’t large but she was definitely in charge!

Mom was a breast cancer survivor in the 1990’s and after her surgery she was blasted with radiation, which was the normal treatment at that time. Ironically the treatment that saved her life 30 years earlier, likely caused the pulmonary fibrosis which ultimately led to her death. But I am forever thankful for those 30 years.

Still it was tough watching Mom struggle with her breathing and her weakness due to oxygen deprivation for the last year or so. This was the Mom who took care of us and suddenly we were struggling with the heartbreaking reality that we needed to take care of her. Mom who was once Super Woman was now weak and helpless. Mom, who had bandaged our knees, held our hands, kissed away our tears, solved our problems, needed our help now, more than we felt we could give. But we tried.

I think about my own children and grandchildren and how my heart aches at times when I hear of their misfortunes or disappointments. I think about how my heart soars when I hear about their triumphs and accomplishments. But mostly I cherish the simple times; the quiet moments; the unspoken love we share.

I’m certain that Mom felt that way, too. One of the last times we were together, Mom and I just sat silently and held hands. There was no need for words. I remember feeling for a moment like a little boy and that Mom had everything under control. It was sublime. I have thanked God for that day many times since.

Mom taught me about God, and she taught me how to pray. Her example of faith lives on in her children, her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren. God is love. And Mom enveloped all of us in that love.

So, I rejoice not because Mom died but because I am her son and she loved me.

I pray without ceasing that the love she shared will continue to grow and touch generations of my family even beyond my imagining.

Gram in Heaven2And yes, even in her death, I give thanks for a peaceful passing and the gift she was to so many of us. My grandson Noah and my granddaughter Anna were profoundly affected by her death. They loved her and miss her terribly but because of Mom’s witness and the faith instilled in them, they also now believe that she is an angel in heaven watching over them. I believe she is, too! What great comfort it brings to know that Mom continues to surround all of us with her love. I recently discovered a drawing in my granddaughter’s sketch book – it’s her image of Mom as an angel in heaven.

With her beautiful drawing, Anna reminded me that we are NEVER alone in our rejoicing, and in our prayer, and in our thankfulness.

Peace,

Denis

 

 

Rejoice Always

Yesterday was the 3rd Sunday of Advent. Pink candle Sunday. We light the pink candle to remind ourselves to rejoice even in times of longing.

Saint Paul tells the Thessalonians to “rejoice always”. I think it’s important to note that while he is making converts in Thessalonica, he was also was being persecuted by their enemies so he decides to high-tail it to Athens. So much for rejoicing.

So how do I rejoice? At times my world seems bleak and there is not much to celebrate. Of course I don’t have anyone trying to chop my head off in Thessalonica, so I suppose I should rejoice about that. Still, often I have anxiety, disappointment, heartache, and sadness. “Rejoicing always” seems to be a tall order. Our government appears to be in shambles. Our president continues to ‘play footsie’ with Vladimir Putin. The number of disgraced politicians, entertainers, and other public figures grows each day. We seem to be on the brink of war with North Korea. There are ever-expanding political, cultural, and economic divisions in our nation. And everywhere I turn, folks seem to be at odds.

What to do? What to do?

The clue for me is in the rest of Paul’s message: “Pray without ceasing” and “In all circumstances give thanks.”

rejoice I’m not that prayerful. Not in the “get-down-on-your-knees-bow-your-head-and-pray” sense of the word. I’m more of a “Oh, God!” “Help me!” kind of guy.

I do thank God for tons of stuff: My beautiful wife, who never gives up on me; my kids, who never seem to grow tired of me; my grandchildren, who never cease to amaze me; my friends, who never have abandoned me.

Still, my prayers of supplication and thanksgiving are more like fleeting thoughts (never fully formed or well articulated). Perhaps I should celebrate that, too. God listens to my prayers – poorly formed and selfish as they may be. I pray and God listens. I cry and God hears me. I try and God accepts my humble efforts.

So on this week before Christmas I will rejoice for all that is good (and not so good). And I’ll continue to work on the ‘always’ part. I may need your help…

Peace,

Denis

Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks. 1 Thes 5:16-18

Make A Joyful Noise

My son-in-law is not a very good singer. No, that’s not quite accurate; he’s a really bad singer. Poor guy couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. But you what? He sings. He sings out loud. He sings with his kids. And most importantly, he sings in church. He makes ‘a joyful noise’!

Sing out your love!

Travis is an example of how children learn by modelling their parents’ behaviour. Both of Bess and Travis’s children love music and grandson Noah really loves to sing. He loves to sing in church just like Daddy. In fact, he so loves church singing that while he was in England every time we entered a church or abbey or cathedral Noah would sing Alleluia. Of course at 21 months old his ‘alleluia’ sounds more like al-lay-loo-la. All the more beautiful and endearing! Somehow a baby singing al-lay-loo-la at the top of his lungs has a transformative power. And Noah has brought joy to many with his vocals. Recently at Mass back in the U.S. he asked the song leader (and our good friend Tracy) for “more loo-la; more, more loo-la!” And together she and Noah made ‘a joyful noise’.

So God bless Travis for singing his heart out heedless of being off-key and for remaining confident that God loves all voices; perhaps especially those that struggle with melody, lyrics, tone and rhythm.

Granddaughter Anna likes to say “that’s the way God made me” or “I’m still learning.” Usually she invokes these sentiments when she has failed to meet some challenge or doesn’t want to try to learn something new. Example: “I’m sorry I didn’t pick up all my toys but I’m not as good at that as you are because I’m still learning” or “I can’t reach the pedals very well on my bike because this is way God made me” (meaning short). But Travis doesn’t seem to care if he is singing is off-key and maybe he celebrates his singing because that’s exactly the way God has made him.

Regardless, his example of ‘joyful noise’ has reverberated in our worship and made an impression on my grandchildren that will last their lifetime. And I thank God for his gift to them and to me. I’m not a good singer either (although I’m better than Travis) but I now sing out  loudly in church, too. Travis and Noah have taught me how to ‘make a joyful noise’, and let go of my fear of not sounding good enough. I’m still learning to love my own voice (warbles and all) and I’m reminded that it’s okay because this is the way that God has made me.

Al-lay-loo-la!

Denis

Joy

This morning was my last day on the beach (for a while anyway) and I had some quiet time to reflect on life, sea shells, sand, that funny bump on my shin, how waves work, why I didn’t buy that other T-shirt at the outlet mall yesterday, what I was going to have for breakfast… I guess I’m not really a good ‘reflecter’ – I get too easily distracted.

Anyway, during my walk I was thinking about joy and happiness and how they are related but not necessarily dependent on one another. I’ve had happiness in my life that I wouldn’t consider joyful. I’ve been “happy” to see a rival fail at something or other but that  didn’t really bring lasting joy – just moment of “ha-ha, sucker” usually followed by guilt – thanks to an overdeveloped conscience AND a Catholic upbringing! But joy is transcendent. Joy is lasting. And joy can sustain us even through despair and sorrow.

This week I’ve been abundantly happy – vacation on the beach with my wife, daughter, son-in-law, and grandkids. We’ve shared love and laughter and made memories. It has been the kind of happiness that creates joy.

But this week has brought some sadness, too. 

Deb’s dear cousin Lareca passed away on Monday – Lareca was fun and funny; she was loved and loving. She left us too soon.

One of my colleagues and best friends at work was forced to “retire” early because of serious health issues this week. I will miss her desperately. We’ve worked together for over 10 years and even though I technically was her boss; she was my mentor. I have this huge void in my life to fill now both personally and professionally.

A few weeks ago a young woman that worked for me named Joy (oh, the irony) left to “pursue a better opportunity”. Joy was like a daughter to me; in fact I used to call her ‘tall Bess’ because her sense of humor and kindness reminded of my own sweet girl. I miss her at the office – even though I’m happy for her, I wish she was still with us.

My Aunt Gene’s Alzheimer’s is taking its toll on her (and our family). We’ve become friendly visitors in her increasingly murky world. It’s heartbreaking to see her quietly slip away.

Where’s the joy?

There is joy in knowing that Lareca’s husband and children and grandchildren can rest assured that she has joined her sisters and mother in heaven. And that now they have an angel smiling down on them.

There is the joy that I hold in my heart of 10 years with Betty and in knowing that her family will surround her with love and support.

There is the joy that is Joy. We will continue to stay in touch and someday when I’m in need of a job I’ll bet that I can call on a friend who just might take pity on an old man who will still have a few ‘good years’ left in him.

There is joy in knowing that Aunt Gene is in tender, caring hands. The nursing staff and the Sisters in her religious community will continue to lift her up in prayer even after she forgets the words herself. She has served God’s children for over 70 years as a Sister of  the Most Precious Blood and her life is an example of loving surrender and service to others. If that’s not joyful – well then, what is?

So yes – happiness can bring joy. I certainly found joy amidst my happiness this week. But we can find joy even in our despair. Because I have found it there,too.

Peace,

Denis