Saints Among Us

On September 8, 1845 a small group of young women from Baden, Germany journeyed to Steinerberg, Switzerland due to government oppression of religious orders. There they formed a community, the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood. The early years were not easy. Ultimately the Sisters were forced to leave Switzerland because of the Swiss government’s hostility towards them. In 1848 they found a home in French Alsace. In 1857 a request for teachers came from Gurtweil, Germany, and so back to Germany they went. Once again, a hostile German government forced the Sisters to seek refuge. This time a group of sisters from the Gurtweil foundation traveled to America. In 1870, nine Sisters arrived in Belle Prairie, Illinois. In 1873 the Sisters temporarily moved to St. Louis, and in 1875 they established the motherhouse in O’Fallon, Missouri.

175 years later, their goal is straightforward. To love God and to be the reconciling presence of Jesus in the communities they serve. Often when I’m feeling spiritually bankrupt, I think of the Sisters and their determination to bring Christ to others. And I know that I am living among saints.

With my Aunts ~ circa 1958

As a Catholic, I know that we are the Church, not the Pope nor the bishops nor the priests but we, the ordinary, everyday, sinful, struggling, prayerful, bored, loving, argumentative, forgiving, messy, mass of humanity. We are the Church. I just occasionally struggle with being part of “We”. Sometimes my prayer life is what I can best describe as anemic. “Hey God, you know what I need, and I’ll try to do better about ‘that thing’ we’ve discussed, and oh by the way, you know what I’m thankful for, too. So, thank you – bla, bla, bla – the end.”

During some of those “desert days”, when I struggle to find God in my life, I am blessed with faithful friends who lift me up and humble me by their love and devotion.

Today in addition to the professed Sisters, a group of lay people known as “Partners in Mission” have joined to help bring peace to our world. Fortunately for me, I have been accepted as a Partner in Mission with the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood. As Partners, we stand in solidarity with the Sisters in their commitment to social justice. Together, we join in prayer and worship. We are offered Spiritual guidance and renewal. In a world full of chaos and uncertainty we find refuge with these women who have devoted themselves to bringing the the love of Jesus to our world.

With my Partners in Mission ~ circa 2019

I’m honored to be a part of this mission. Sometimes it’s as simple as offering a kind word or a friendly smile. Which sounds simple unless I’m carrying too much anger, mistrust or heartache. Sometimes it means being involved in service to others in our community. Which can present its own challenges when I’m feeling particularly lazy or selfish.

Mostly for me it’s just being PRESENT. Giving myself to others with no expectation of anything in return. Listening to stories. Sharing joy. Making memories. Being loved. The best part is that there is no test of worthiness or holiness required – which I would almost certainly fail. No financial obligation or talent is necessary – again I am lacking in both regards.

When I am bereft of enlightenment or clarity or purpose, I am reminded that alone my journey is not easy, but I am never alone. I know that I am being carried along on this journey of love and faith and joy by the Sisters and the other Partners in Mission.

And I am part of “We”.



If you would like to learn more about Partners in Mission, click the link:

Drenched In Love

Recently one of the members of our small faith group shared this insight: When dealing with our enemies, we should try to “drench them with love”.

dancin_in_the_rainFor me the imagery is almost overwhelming. The thought of torrents of water descending upon me is easy to envision. While walking in a warm spring rain, initially I will attempt to stay dry under an umbrella, or run, as if I can somehow elude the raindrops. Ultimately my efforts become futile. I finally embrace the rain and the idea of being completely saturated. I stop fighting it. I stop running. I put away the umbrella. I accept the downpour. I surrender. I am drenched.

And it’s exhilarating.

So much more is true of love. I am drenched in love. Every day, in countless ways, I am drenched by the love of others as they freely pour their love over me. What a blessing. What a gift. To be loved. To be drenched in love. And it has changed me. I am a better husband because of the love of my wife. I am a better father because of the love of my children. I am a better man because of the love of my friends.

What if some of my enemies are loving me?  Perhaps I am blessed to be loved by someone who I have determined to be unlovable or unworthy of my time or attention. Maybe it’s time for me to truly listen to the words of my friend and try to “drench my enemies with love”.

As with most challenges in my life, I know my limitations. I’m not going to start by trying to “drench” ISIS or Ann Coulter with love. I’ll start small. I’ll try to “drench” that annoying co-worker and the smart-ass kid down the street who drives too fast. I’ll attempt to “drench” the guy at the gym who hogs the equipment. I’ll “drench” the lady at the dry cleaners who assumes that we share the same political views (we don’t). And I’ll try to “drench” our associate pastor who I can barely stand to be in the same church with on most Sundays.

Sister Viola Marie, loving our enemies is a tough call. Drenching them with love will definitely be an uphill climb. But I’m going to try. And I know that God will be laughing at my weak attempts when I fail. And I know that you’ll keep pouring your love over me even when I’m a failure.




I Give Up

Another Lenten season and yesterday I was thinking, “what should I give up?” Each year the Church sets aside these 40 days in preparation for Easter. But for me there’s more to it than just giving up something or making some sacrifice. Lent should be a time for spiritual renewal.

Spirit renewal – easy words to say; much harder to put into practice. Where to start? What to do? And why? I mean really, sometimes why bother??? So much blah, blah, blah, holy, holy, holy…

CaptureSunday at mass it will be the same priest, the same boring or out-of-touch homily, the same listless liturgy, and sometimes I just want to “phone it in”. I’ll go through the motions but I can’t help but wonder if my time might not be better spent cleaning out a closet or organizing the cabinets in my office. I suppose I could pray while I straighten out my clutter. Isn’t cleanliness next to Godliness or something like that?

But today is Ash Wednesday and I’m here at my office in Mexico City. So Jimena and Alberto and I went to the little church on the corner and received ashes and listened to Scripture (in Spanish, of course) and I realized then what I need to “give up” this year.

I need to give up my cynicism, my unrealistic expectations of others, my pride, my stubbornness, my impatience, and so much more. If I empty myself, I might be filled with the Spirit. I suppose I’ve been waiting for everyone else to get better. I want the “holy ones” to deliver their message more clearly, more succinctly, more passionately, more inclusively, but perhaps the real problem is the receiver.

Today I’m proudly wearing my ashes and getting fewer confused stares here in Mexico than I would be in the States. I’ve even been thanked by a few people for reminding them that they still need to get to church. Maybe this is a good place to start my spiritual renewal.




Women of Faith

Recently during a virtual papal audience via satellite from the Vatican, Pope Francis called out to Sister Norma Pimentel who runs a welcome center in McAllen, Texas, which has served more than 20,000 asylum seeking immigrants.

“I want to thank you,” Francis said. “And through you to thank all the sisters of religious orders in the U.S. for the work that you have done and that you do in the United States. It’s great. I congratulate you. Be courageous. Move forward. I’ll tell you one other thing. Is it inappropriate for the Pope to say this? I love you all very much.“

Three of my aunts were Sisters of the Most Precious Blood and they were testaments to devotion, service, and joy in Christ. What amazing examples of faithfulness I was blessed with.

Circa 1957 That's me on Gene's lap - a happy place to be.

Noel, Gene Marie & Lucy with my grandparents, my brother, my cousins and my dad – circa 1957
(That’s me on Gene’s lap – a happy place to be.)

My three aunts, Lucida, Noel and Gene Marie, embodied all that is good about religious life. They were loving women who served God by serving others. They lived in community and shared their talents accordingly. They were intelligent women who were well-traveled and well-educated, not something to be taken for granted by women born in the 1910’s and 1920’s. They were teachers, administrators, catechists, and persons of authority. But to me they were simply my Aunts.

They were our family’s “Blessed Trinity”. They were honored guests and were afforded certain special privileges. When they would visit, Mom would be sure to make their favorite meals (particularly their favorite desserts). At my grandparents’ house it was always a treat when all three Sisters would visit at the same time. Growing up Catholic in the 1950’s and 60’s while having three aunts that were Sisters was the pinnacle of holiness for me – I wore it like a scapular medal. And I must admit that I bragged about it at school or with my friends. I remember that there were kids at school who were afraid of nuns but I knew how loving my aunts were and understood that the Sisters who taught us were also daughters, sisters and aunts, too. It was de-mystifying having nuns in our family. They were just like us (only holier). Some of my happiest childhood memories are laughing and playing with Lucy, Noel and Gene Marie.

Mom & Dad celebrating Gene's 60th year as a Religious Sister

My Mom & Dad with Aunt Gene ~ Celebrating her 70th year as a Religious Sister

As I grew, I understood the many sacrifices my aunts had made in serving God’s people. I was also keenly aware of the joy that they knew while living in community with their Sisters. They modeled for me a progressive faith; where service to others was the ultimate service to God. Instead of dogma and hierarchy; rules and regulations, their focus was on loving ALL of God’s creation. They taught me how to love even the unlovable (which sometimes included me).  There were times when I didn’t believe in God but I always believed in Lucy, Noel and Gene. Priests and bishops would come and go. Crises in our Church (mostly caused by men) would dominate the headlines but my Aunts remained steadfast. Perhaps they saw the folly in a “male only” clergy or perhaps they realized it was insignificant in the grand scheme of God’s promise. Even as cancer and Alzheimer’s took their lives, it didn’t distinguish their light.

They remain alive in my heart and in the thousands of lives that they each served. I for one will always be grateful for their unconditional love. And I share Pope Francis sentiments. “I love you all very much.”



Why Being Catholic Today Is Still Relevant

Last weekend our daughter-in-law was formally received into the Catholic Church. Although baptized as an infant her faith journey was varied and non-traditional. Colleen is a very spiritual person and has being searching for some time. I believe she has found a home in the Catholic Church. As she journeyed through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults for the last nine months and celebrated her reception into the Church last Sunday my prayer has remained the same: “God please hold her in your hands.”

RCIAPolitically I am often at odds with the Church. The treatment of women in our Church is disappointing to say the least. Too often it seems that the hierarchy is more concerned with THE RULES than with the people – the people of God. Public debate about homosexuality, girl altar servers, women priests, birth control, celibacy, church finances, priest sexual abuse, and true Catholic identity (whatever that means) serve to be painful distractions from Jesus’ message of love and peace. The Official Church sadly seems to be more concerned about power than empowerment; about righteousness than about justice; more focused on sin than on forgiveness; more dedicated to doctrine than spirituality.

But listen to Jesus’ words:  “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”  He didn’t say, but first make certain that the person you love is worthy. He didn’t say make sure that they have followed ALL the rules. He didn’t say judge and then love. He simply told us to love another. As Catholic Christians that is our call. To love. As Christ loves.

Recently I have witnessed this love so many times. My family and I have certainly been held in God’s hands. As I watched Colleen receive the Sacraments of our Church for the first time I felt the presence of Christ in our midst. As her sponsor Kim placed a hand on her shoulder I knew it was Jesus’ touch that Colleen would feel. Last week we attended “Grandparents’ Day” at our granddaughter Anna’s school. During Mass that morning, Anna sat between us and sang Sanctuary – a hymn that I have always loved but now has new meaning having heard it in her sweet voice. Last night my ‘Partners in Mission’ group visited residents at Villa Theresa Haven, a care facility for the elderly and infirmed. Our simple visit brought some light and life to those we met but mostly we were blessed by the love that they returned to us. Being Catholic is relevant today because love is always the answer. And God’s love for us is timeless and boundless.

As Catholic Christians we can squabble about protocol and theology. We can disagree about traditions and priorities. But Jesus remains our mediator. And love is what defines us.

“Lord prepare me, to be a sanctuary; Pure and holy, tried and true.”




May I have a seat at this table?

Mass began on Sunday with the hymn “All Are Welcome In This Place.  I love this song and I truly felt welcomed and joyful. But not for long…

TableOur transitional deacon (he plans to be ordained next year) was the homilist. Like many of the newer priests and deacons this guy is an ultra-conservative. He took it upon himself to “set the record straight” on the recent Synod on Family taking place in Rome. This synod is a big deal (or should be) for Catholics. Pope Francis convened the bishops of the world to discuss the Church’s teachings on matters such as divorce, same-sex marriage, family planning, in-vitro fertilization and euthanasia. Initial press reports indicated, in my opinion, some much needed reform. Our young deacon felt the need to explain that the media had distorted the message of the synod and launched into a diatribe about abortion and marriage. No mention was made of the Church’s stance on capital punishment or preference for the poor, instead he only focused on sexual sin. He affirmed that NO CHANGE IN CHURCH DOCTRINE WOULD EVER HAPPEN. Because we live in a upper middle-class community in a very conservative state, most in attendance seemed to be comforted by his words. I was not.

I couldn’t help but think of the countless couples in our church being denied communion because of divorce and remarriage. My heart broke for those members of our parish who are gay or lesbian – once again being made to feel that they are not worthy. And what of the parents and friends in our parish community who have loved ones no longer welcomed? Instead of reaching out to us, with the love of Christ, this deacon took an opportunity to remind us of THE RULES.

So while we were all singing,Built of hopes and dreams and visions, rock of faith and vault of grace; Here the love of Christ shall end divisions”, this deacon was no doubt mulling over just how he was going to impress upon us that we are indeed divided, and that we should put aside any hopes and dreams and visions of a loving, all-inclusive Church. This made me very sad. And I am especially sad for this soon-to-be priest. How will he ever shepherd, if he is blind to so many in his flock?

At the conclusion of the Synod on the Family, Pope Francis warned some in the hierarchy, “(There is) a temptation toward hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises; within the law, we remain within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve.”

Maybe someday I’ll get a seat at the table where we’re all welcome. I love the God of surprises!



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.




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…





If church could be like the beach, I would go every day…

Last week we were in Florida. Every year when we make our annual jaunt to the Gulf of Mexico I realize that I could very easily become a beach bum. I love the beach. I love the sound of the waves crashing. I love being in the water even with the occasional seaweed wrapping around my legs. Give me a sunny day on the shore with a Corona® or a margarita and a beach chair and I could be happy for hours (or at least until the drinks run dry or the sun goes down).

beachI think the best thing about being on the beach is that no one seems to care about how you look; if you’re on time; if you’re rich or poor; if you’re well-read; if you’re young or old; if you’re fit or a little flabby. Of course when you are on the beach you will see some beautiful beach bodies and some hideous creatures, too. I’d like to think that I fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. But it doesn’t matter. Anything goes. The beach is the great equalizer. If you want to run along the shore that’s fine. If you want to lay on a blanket or a lounge chair all day that’s fine, too. If you want to build sand castles or search for sea shells or watch for dolphin sightings, or ride the waves on your boogie board, or just feel the sand between your toes, no one cares. No one judges what you do or don’t do.

Everyone seems to accept you as you are. And no one seems to be bothered to follow anyone else’s idea of what beach time should be. No schools. No rules. No fools. Just be yourself. And be accepted. The beach has room for all.

I’d like to think our church could be like the beach: Room for all. No need for everyone to be the same. Or have the same expectations of holiness. I believe that like the beach, our Eucharist is the great equalizer. We all come to the table from different places but we share in the love of Christ. God doesn’t judge us on our appearance or actions (or inactions) but what is in our hearts.

Like the beach, the church should have room for us all. And a little sunshine wouldn’t hurt once in a while.



My Journey Continues Today

Every journey is supposed to have a beginning and an end but it’s what happens along the way that fills my soul. Of course there are wrong turns and detours and setbacks as I plod on to reach my destination. I’ve discovered some unexpected surprises and realized anticipated milestones as I’ve reached them. I might feel lost or stuck at times; not sure how to go on or which way to turn. Time marches on and sometimes I struggle to keep pace. And yet I continue today. I simply have no choice. I continue.

My constant reminder to myself: Love more. Hurt less. Give more. Take less.

This is it. My only journey. And it won’t really ever end. I’ve decided to forgo focussing on the destination and relish the journey. I’m letting go of the false-starts and missteps; the disappointments and regrets.

I’m not sure where my journey may lead. And I’m grateful for the days that I’ve had and the ones that I hope to have in the future. I’ve seen some amazing places and known some extraordinary people. I’ve had moments in this life that have been heart-breakingly beautiful and some filled with such desperation that even the memory brings back the pain. But I’m embracing this day. TODAY.

Today I have a wife and children and grandchildren and we share an ordinary life. We work. Clean the house. Mow the lawn. Pay bills. Buy groceries. Prepare meals.

But more importantly: We play. We pray. We sing. We laugh. We cry.

imageFor me it’s always been the simple pleasures: Holding Deb’s hand. A tender kiss on  the cheek from a grandchild. A giggle from an oft-told joke that never stops being funny. Praying at mealtime. Hugs. Hearing “I love you”. A favorite song. Comfortable shoes. Sunshine. Blue skies. Fresh snowfall. Warm summer nights and dinner on the patio. The sound of rain on the roof.  A call home. A friendly voice. The smell of supper on the stove. A job well done. A goodnight kiss.

As I journey, I don’t need to “get somewhere”, I’m already there. This journey is not about arriving somewhere in the future, it’s about being here now.

Every kiss. Every tear. Every joy. Every heartache. Those are mine to share. TODAY.