Seventeen Years

This week we commemorate the 17thanniversary of that Tuesday morning when church doors were opened, and people wept openly in the streets. Loved ones were lost and true heroism became the top story on the evening news. Initials like “FDNY” took on new meaning and, for a moment, the world stood still and mourned.

No one who is in grade school or high school can tell you about their experiences of that day. In fact, some of the people teaching those very students were likely in grade school and high school themselves that fateful day. Those old enough to remember can tell you the stories of where they were, what they were doing, and how their lives were interrupted for a few days. They can tell you how quiet the skies were and how filled the churches became. They can tell you about the return of major league sports, prime-time television, and how a president inspired a nation with a bullhorn as he stood atop the rubble.

But as a country, we have forgotten the lessons of that day. We have forgotten how important it is to talk to each other and hold hands once in a while. Patriotism has been replaced by partisanism and no one really has a conversation anymore. Instead, we define people by right or left and we stand on the side we think defines us and we yell at each other. People who dare to cross the proverbial aisle to work with another person are condemned as traitors and are called names by colleagues and friends. Ideologies define us and all that we are sure of is that the other side is wrong.

We are an impatient people, made more impatient but the glut of news and the lack of filters. Where you get your news creates a line of demarcation about where you sit and who you believe and how great you think our country is – or could be.

Seventeen years ago, we stopped fighting for a little while. Politicians stood on the steps of the Capitol and sang, “God Bless America.” Color and race and creed and orientation did not matter – especially if you needed saving or rescuing or defending. We recognized how fragile life had always been when we saw photos of strangers hanging on a fence and commuter lots filled with cars whose owners were not coming back.

This week, maybe we could pause to remember those who died needlessly that day, stolen from their families by a madman. Perhaps we could remember those who ran into the buildings. They ran into the buildings. Perhaps we can remember the thousands who have died since then – and are still dying – combatting the power of evil in the world.

Most of all, we should remember the civility, the calm, and the longing for peace that was so palpable in the days and weeks that followed that awful day. These are the lessons we must teach today’s young people. They did not experience any of those things and if we are not very careful, they never will.

Let there be peace on earth, in our homes, in our classrooms, in our families, in our workplaces, in our country, in our hearts.

And let it begin with me.

~pjd

Hope

I have St. Paul on the brain these days. Especially the fifth line of the fifth chapter of Romans.

“Hope does not disappoint.”

I do not know why I started thinking of Paul or the Romans, but it came to me in prayer, frustration, hurt, anger, and finally, surrender over these past few days. As another crisis hit the church, my own crisis of confidence hit home.

People disappoint. Life disappoints. Circumstances disappoint. Children disappoint parents. Parents disappoint children. We disappoint each other. Sometimes even those we trust the most are disappointing – those we depend on for clarity lack it for a moment we discover the clay feet beneath our heroes.

But hope does not disappoint.

When I was in graduate school at Notre Dame a professor told my class that “hope” in the Christian sense is an action word. It has to be. It is a clarion call to do something. “Hope,” he said, “is an unsatisfactory view of the present, a satisfactory view of the future, and a commitment to change.”

Absent the commitment, it’s not hope. It’s whining.

Last year, while preparing a paper for my studies at LaSalle, I read the line, “If faith is a verb, it is an action verb, and hope is its future tense.”

Think about that for a minute.

in our present situation, what are we called to do today? Where will hope take us? What will hope challenge us to become?

Write a note. Make a call. Ask God to bless our leaders – political and spiritual – with the gift of right judgment. But above all, stop complaining about things we cannot fix or do not understand. Do something. Stop whining and hope.

Because hope does not disappoint.

-pjd

A Prayer for the First Week of School

Master and Teacher,

Bless the students who will have trouble settling down this week, whose minds are still at the beach or at grandma’s swimming pool, or the amusement park or soccer camp.

Bless those who sit nervously in class: those who are new in school and those who never read anything over the summer and know a test is coming anyway.

Bless those who will struggle, those who will succeed, and those who get lost in the crowd.

Bless the new friendships that will begin on day one and bless those cherished friendships that will be renewed.

Bless them all with compassion, that they may root for the underdog, celebrate those who accomplish much, and pray fervently for each other.

Bless them with an environment free from bullying, needless competition, and petty jealousy.

Help them, Lord, to fall in love with learning.

Bless the parents of these students, their first teachers in the ways of faith. Give them patience when the homework takes too long, give them the courage to understand that their children are not perfect and give them the courage to discipline with love. May they abdicate less and partner more.

And we beg you, Lord, to bring these children safely home at the end of the day, the week, or the semester. Keep them free from violence – at home and at school – on the bus and on the streets – and guide them home to the waiting arms of those who loved them first.

Finally, Lord, we pray in the thanksgiving for the men and women who have already been hard at work straightening desks, taping names to cubbies, painting lockers, planning classes cleaning rooms, decorating bulletin boards, hanging posters, and studying test scores. Bless these servants with peace, patience, persistence, and your Spirit, that they may be Your presence to our young people, Your hands, and Your voice.

We make this prayer through Christ our Lord: teacher, servant, and source of all hope.

Amen.

Pray Always

Vacation is over, and we have tons of stories to tell. But we will save those for another time (plus, many of you traveled with us virtually).

In this week’s Gospel readings, we hear all about getting into heaven. With the exception of Friday, when we celebrate the feat of Feast of Saint Bartholomew, all the rest of the Gospel readings are about vines and branches, wedding feasts, faithful people who do not want to give up possessions, and the like. It reminds me of the bumper sticker I saw once upon a time. It read, “Heaven. Everyone wants to go but no one wants to buy a ticket.” How true.

We read about sinfulness in the papers and hear about it in our churches. These days, we cannot seem to escape the sins of the past and the sinful cover-ups that followed. We hear about those who lost their innocence (or, rather, had it stolen from them), those who suffered with them (family, friends, counselors), and those innocent men and women who have done no wrong, served the church faithfully, and yet are painted with the same brush as those deplorable people who preyed on the young.

What’s the solution? Mass resignation by all US bishops? The pope removing those who covered up the sins of so many? Protests? Letters? Righteous anger?

Let’s start with prayer.

Horrible people did unspeakable things. Those in charge covered it up. Anyone who has been paying attention for the last decade and a half knew this day was coming. Those in ministry knew that the crisis of the abuse itself was only the first part of the story. Now the day of reckoning for those who looked the other way transferred the predators and ignored civil and church law will need to be held accountable. That is not likely to be an easy task and it definitely will not be a pretty one. There will be more hurt, more anger, more stories to tell.

So, let’s start with prayer. Let us pray for those we know were abused and those who have yet to tell their story. Let us pray for those who will need to make the decision to hold others accountable. It is an unenviable, albeit necessary, task. Let us pray for those who work every day to protect God’s children. Let us pray for those good men and woman who wear their habit, robe, collar, and lapel pin and who have never abused, neglected, covered up, or conspired. Let us pray for the faithful who are thinking about walking away.

And let us pray for each other. In more than 2,000 years, the church – and Christianity itself – has undergone reform and renewal, suffered through difficult times and sinful times. But we place our hope on the Vine, the Master, the Bridegroom, the Servant, the Teacher one who washes feet. We place our trust and hope in One greater than any of us – all of us put together.

Prayer may not seem like enough, but perhaps it’s a good place to start.

Come, Holy Spirit, renew the face of the Earth…

Gone Fishin’

Well, not really fishing, but the Donovan clan will be on vacation for the next few weeks, so we’ll check in from the road (or we won’t).

Know that we will pray for you as we journey.

pjd

Who We Obey Makes A Difference

From the archives (circa 2012)

On Sunday we heard, if we were really listening, great advice from the Acts of Apostles.

“We must obey God rather than man.”

Man tells us it’s okay to be mean if people deserve it or if it gets us ahead. God says, “ Love your neighbor.”

Man tells us it’s okay to execute in the name of government. God says, “Do not kill.”

Man tells us life begins whenever we say it begins and until then we can pretty much do what we want with that blob of cells. God says, “Before you were born, I called you by name.”

Man tells us that might makes right, power is everything, and the poor can take of themselves. God says, “The first shall be last,” and “As I have done, so you must do.”

Man tells us it’s okay to lie if it means we win the day, that the truth is flexible and its definition can change. God says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

Man hates. God loves.

Man is intolerant. God welcomes everyone.

Man breaks down others. God builds us up.

Man gets lost. God gives Light.

Man despairs. God sends Hope.

Man crucifies. God resurrects.

Who we obey is a very big deal.

~pjd

Back to School

I wrote the entry below back in 2015 when I started my doctoral studies at La Salle University in Philadelphia. This morning at 9 am, my oral comprehensive exams will begin. The written part will follow. St. Joseph of Cupertino, pray for us.

July 2015

I spent last week in a classroom studying the French school of spirituality. I read more than I have in a very long time and I wrote nearly a hundred pages of notes I pray I will be able to read when I need them.

I met ten of the most amazing people – priests, doctors, women religious, Catholics and Protestants, mothers and fathers, millennial and baby boomers. Together we laughed more than I can remember laughing in a very long time such that by the end of the week the silliest things brought us to tears. These will be my partners in this adventure that, if we survive, will end with doctoral degrees. It was a retreat, an overwhelming amount of work, and a moment of grace all wrapped into a week I will not soon forget.

At the beginning of every session, Brother John, our instructor, would close the classroom door and announce, “Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God.” These words from St. John Baptist de La Salle surprised me at first. It was such an easy phrase to hear and such a difficult phrase to live. As we heard the invitation to prayer twice a day and sat in the silence that followed, I began to wonder why it can be so hard for me to remember God’s presence in my life.

So I made a list.

Slowly but surely, I will begin to remove those things from my life that keep me from remembering God’s presence. For now, there are emails to answer, meetings to attend, and papers to write. Being away has its advantages but coming home brings a bumpy reentry to a reality that makes you long for being away again.

This reentry will be easier, I know because all I have to do is to think about the laughter shared and friendships forged to recall the joy I found in going back to school.

This week, do what you can to call to mind the words of St. John Baptist de La Salle and remember that you are always, always, always in the holy presence of God. When you find yourself forgetting, add whatever it is that made you forget to your list.

Over time – and with help – we can transform those lists to holiness.

~pjd

A Solemn Prayer

While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free.
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
as we raise our voices in a solemn prayer:

God bless America, land that I love
Stand beside her and guide her
Thru the night with a light from above
From the mountains to the prairies
To the oceans white with foam
God bless America,
my home sweet home
God bless America,
my home sweet home

Irving Berlin
1918


Happy Fourth of July, everyone, and may God continue to bless America.

Summer Camp

I am spending this week chaperoning a leadership camp for high school students. Sleeping on a bed built by the Quickcrete company, I find myself watching the stellar group of college students lead the high school participants. Except that I am a full-fledged adult, they do not really need me, these young people are gifted beyond most and are clearly able to set a good example for the younger students.

Last night, as we were gathering for night prayer, one of the young adults read a poem which was then given to all the participants. In addition, the students were given a popsicle stick with their name on it, a physical representation of the “dash” about which the poet speaks. It’s a good challenge for all of us this week: what will we do with our dash?

The Dash 
I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend
He referred to the dates on her tombstone
From the beginning to the end
He noted that first came the date of her birth
And spoke the following date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years.
For that dash represents all the time
That she spends alive on earth.
And now only those who loved her
Know what that little line is worth.
For it matters not how much we own;
The cars, the house, the cash,
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.
So think about this long and hard.
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left,
That can still be rearranged.
If we could just slow down enough
To consider what’s true and real
And always try to understand
The way other people feel.
And be less quick to anger,
And show appreciation more
And love the people in our lives.
Like we’ve never loved before.
If we treat each other with respect,
And more often wear a smile
Remembering that this special dash
Might only last a little while.
So, when your eulogy is being read
With your life’s actions to rehash
Would you be proud of the things they say
About how you spent your dash?
Linda Ellis

 

God’s First

This Friday, we celebrate two great saints: St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More.

John Fisher was a bishop who refused to recognize the king of England, Henry VIII, as the supreme head of the church in England. He was executed on orders of the king, who could not stand being embarrassed by those whose reputations as a theologian and scholar were greater than his own reputation as ruler.

We celebrate Bishop Fisher that same day we celebrate my favorite saint, Thomas More. Also executed for his refusal to recognize the king over the pope as head of the church, More was the Lord Chancellor of England, whose final days are recounted in Robert Bolt’s play, A Man For All Seasons. I read that play every summer and taught it when I was a junior high teacher and, again, more recently, in a class I taught at a local university. At the end of the play, More stands on the dais, about to lose his head for following his conscience and says, (at least this is how it is in the play), “I have been commanded by the king to be brief, so brief I will be. I die here the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”

More and Fisher served the king well. When the king didn’t get what he wanted, he simply made himself the head of the church, granted himself the divorce, and thus was free to marry the woman who would become one of many in a succession of wives. It was a declaration that he wrote with his advisors that made him able to do these things and it turns out it was a declaration that went against his own coronation oath.

When the leader of this country takes the oath of office he or she promises to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” But now, we are faced with a situation at our southern border that is an adaptation of a law that violates the very constitution the president swore to protect.

The Supreme Court held in 2000’s Zadvydas v. Davis that due process rights apply to undocumented immigrants. The government may not separate asylum-seekers from their children indefinitely and without cause. Still, to date, more than 2,000 parents and children have been separated, often with no follow-up, no way of tracking kids or parents, and no path to reunification. It’s a policy rooted in fear and guided (or misguided) by those who believe that might makes right and people who are in danger of starving to death or getting shot on their neighborhood streets will somehow stop coming if the gate is locked.

Our current policy defies logic and basic human decency. In some cases, the parents are arrested at the border, not once they have crossed it. Whether the parents are fleeing persecution at home, violence in their streets, or are simply hoping to gain entry to a better life does not seem to matter. No amount of Bible quotes will get the president and his advisors out of this one.

We need an immigration policy in this country that both keeps us safe and treats others fairly. We need people who are willing to stand firm in the face of tyranny and demand change – even at the risk of losing their proverbial heads.

In short, we need people who are willing to be “God’s first” – not Republicans first, not Democrats first, not liberals or conservatives, or ultra-anything (except, perhaps, Christian), not watchers of news from one side or the other, but true, honest to goodness Americans who are willing to stand up and say, “Enough.”

Simple steps, like writing your representatives, is a beginning. I was challenged to do that last week by a late-night talk show host of all people. His argument was compelling, and I wrote my letters immediately. Signing petitions is another step. Posting on social media is another. Talking to your friends. Reading the paper. Inform yourself.

Because if we are judged on how we treat the most vulnerable, I cannot imagine the one will judge us all is happy about any of this.

This week, how will you be “God’s first”?

~pjd