Eclipse

The family just returned from a seven-state, 2400 mile vacation. We visited with friends and family and had a front row seat for the solar eclipse that captivated the nation.

I have been searching for the right word to describe the experience. We went to the Nashville Zoo with about 7,000 others who sat in the field amidst the animal enclosures to both watch the sky and see how the animals reacted. I was more interested in how my children would react.

In the hour or so leading up to the eclipse, we sat in the field and sweated. I had forgotten about the humidity and, as the temperatures neared 100 degrees, the children started to complain. To be honest, so did I.

Then, it started. We donned our glasses and stared at the sky. It’s exciting, exhilerating, and, well, let’s face it, you just can’t stare at the sky for that long in heat like that. So it was a little bit of staring, a little waiting in line for food, a little  wandering around to see the animals, and a rush back to the field for the final countdown.

As we neared totality, the family lay on the ground together. At some point, as the sky overhead darkened, it became important for the children to be touching each other – and their parents. Holding hands, we lay on our backs in the field and waited.

It got darker. The sliver of the sun peaking out behind the moon became smaller and smaller. The field sizzled with anticipation. People grew silent.

Then it happened. The sun was gone, leaving only a ring of fire peaking out.

And the place went nuts.

Cheering. Yelling. Crying. Jumping up and down. As if we had somehow made it happen, willed it to happen, wished it to happen.

The more I think back to the sight of the children’s enthusiasm and excitment, the more I struggle for the right word.

I think it was joy.

I think it was that feeling where you forget everything else – the email, the phone calls, the chores, the back to school shopping, the bills, the mess you left at home – everything – and you just are. You just enjoy the love of the people you are with and you are overwhelmed with how insignificant you are in the grand scheme of things.

It is an amazing moment as a parent when you realize the center of your life is outside yourself.

Joy. We tasted divinity for a minute and a half and then the glasses went back on and the crowds started to disperse. It felt almost disrespectful because the sun and the moon hadn’t finished their dance. But there were animals to see and shadows to investigate.

But the joy carried us through the day and night and into the next day…and I pray we can continue to capture what we experienced in that field on that very hot August afternoon.

~pjd

 

P.S. Liam shot this photo!

Loving Others

Throughout the Bible, we are told the God loves everyone. I could quote you chapter and verse, but I know you believe me.

So if God loves everyone, then everyone is lovable. Right?

Think about that for a bit. Everyone?

Everyone.

The racist, the bigot, the idiot, the moron, the Democrat, the Republican, the guy on Fox and the guy on CNN, the criminal, the person who cuts you off in traffic, the guy – or girl – who dented your car and did not leave a note, the mean lady at the grocery store, and the person down the hall at work that everyone struggles to like.

Everyone is lovable.

God will sort out the forgiveness and God will judge the remorse.

It is our job to love others. Period.

That includes everyone.

This week, maybe I will just pick one or two from my list and start there.

~pjd

Except Through Me

When we think of Charlottesville or Orlando or Charleston, may we pay attention to the command to love one another.

When we think of Syria or the Gaza Strip or South Sudan, may we gain some perspective and complain less.

When we hear of immigrants dying in tractor trailers or deportations that defy understanding, may we welcome the strangers in our midst.

When we think of Sandy Hook or Columbine or Paducah or any number of the places where people with guns shoot children, may we hold our little ones close and remind them that we are called to be people of peace.

And when we gather this week for Mass on the Feast of the Assumption, may we be reminded of the words of the late Ruth Mary Fox and the great challenge her words offer to each of us.

Into the hillside country Mary went
Carrying Christ.

And all along the road the Christ she carried
Generously bestowed his grace on those she met.
But she had not meant to tell she carried Christ.
She was content to hide his love for her.
But about her glowed such joy that into stony hearts
Love flowed
And even to the unborn John, Christ’s love was sent.

Christ, in the sacrament of love each day, dwells in my soul
A little space.
And then as I walk life’s crowded highways
Jostling men who seldom think of God
To these, I pray, that I may carry Christ
For it may be
Some may not know of him

Except through me.

As we watch the news and see the violence, bigotry, and unbridled enthusiasm for ignorance and hatred, we are challenged to ask ourselves this important question:

“How will I carry Christ this week?”

~pjd

The Rest of the Story

Originally posted four years ago, but I really like this morning’s reading, so I decided to rerun it, albeit edited to reflect my new reality.

The great radio commentator Paul Harvey has been dead since 2009 and if I had not grown up with the parents I had or with the older siblings I had (and still have) and if one of those siblings had not been in radio himself, I might not have known who Paul Harvey was. But I did and if you did too, then the title of this entry already makes sense.

I thought about those old “The Rest of the Story” radio segments and their little known or forgotten facts as I read this morning’s first reading from Numbers 11.

It is one of my favorite passages of the Old Testament and is one I invoke often. Look it up. Read it. And smile along with me.

There are times, in ministry and in life, when we are, quite frankly, overwhelmed by the ignorance around us. On the road (who taught Connecticut drivers to make a left turn in front of others when the light turns green?), in the supermarket (how hard is it to put the cart back?), perhaps even in the office (though not much anymore), we are surrounded by foolishness, incompetence, and just plain…well…you know what I mean. Like Moses in this morning’s reading, we hear the cries of those we are called to serve and, though we know the tasks we have been given, we are at our wits end, ready to surrender. Every time I read Numbers 11, I laugh because I recognize the Moses in me. “Please, Lord, if this is how you are to treat your servant, just do me the favor of killing me now.”

I don’t really mean it. I am sure Moses, a family man himself, didn’t really want to die either.

But there does come a time in our lives when we look around and wonder if we are the only ones who can accomplish a particular task, or if we are the only one with a sense of what’s possible. It’s not arrogance. Really, it isn’t. It is just frustration that those around us simply don’t move as quickly or in the same direction as we think they ought.

So, like Moses, we take it to prayer and we ask to be let off the hook.

But you have to read the rest of the story.

Since it’s not in this morning’s first reading, let me summarize. Moses says, “Kill me now, God, so I do not have to bear the burden of these people.”

And God says, “I have a better idea.”

“Go find people smarter than you and bring them with you to the meeting tent (ahh, the first parish committee). Then I will take some of my Spirit that is within you, Moses, and I will place it on them, so you do not have to do my work all by yourself.”

So, in other words: “Quit your whining and surround yourself with smart people, if you can admit they exist, which is another issue entirely. Find those who share your passion and vision and remember: the work you do is God’s, not yours.”

It isn’t your ministry. It’s God’s.

They aren’t your young people. They are God’s.

It isn’t about you. It’s about you making God present to others.

And just because an idea wasn’t yours, doesn’t mean it isn’t good. Just because you didn’t think of it, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t support it, comments don’t always equal criticism…but I digress.

God could have let Moses off the hook. He could have struck him dead.

But disciples hardly ever get off that easily.

Look around this week. Who are the smart people you should gather together so that God can share God’s Spirit with God’s people so that, together, you can do God’s work?

I love Numbers 11. But you have to read the rest of the story.

I think Paul Harvey would be pleased.

~pjd

Nothing Else Matters

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me,
and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;
and whoever does not take up his cross
and follow after me is not worthy of me.
Whoever finds his life will lose it,
and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

These lines, from Matthew 10:37-39, set up what the Biblical scholars call “the conditions for discipleship.” I have to imagine that if you were having a first person experience of Jesus, you would have come to expect such instructions. And I can’t imagine if you were hanging out with a guy who changed water to wine, resurrected the official’s servant, healed Peter’s mother-in-law, and calmed the sea, you would be bothered by putting Jesus first.

But looking at the lines with twenty first century eyes is another story. Lots of things can get in the way of putting Jesus first. Sometimes I love chocolate more than I should. Sometimes I love other foods, too, but chocolate always comes to mind. I love my children more than myself and want them to love God more than they love me, but sometimes it is hard to imagine loving anything more than I love them. A long car ride with all of us barreling down the highway in an enclosed place usually is enough to remind me that I really do love God more.

This week, I will live like nothing matters more than God. I will teach my children to do the same. Perhaps if we consciously work to put God first, speaking nicely to others will come naturally, helping around the house will come naturally, serving others in love will come naturally.

But first it requires acting as though loving God more than anything else also comes naturally. My children, like all children, I suppose, learn better by watching. How I live makes much more of a difference than what I say.

Unless I tell them I have chocolate to share. They always seem to hear that.

Distracted

Last week was spent in Orlando at the Convocation of Catholic Leaders, but more on that another time. Needless to say, sometimes when I travel and get stuck in a hotel for days on end, I lose track of days and this trip was no different. I spent the first few days at the annual meeting of the Leadership Roundtable and the following four or five days with other delegates from the Diocese of Bridgeport at the Convocation. It was Tuesday before I realized Five Minutes on Monday never went out.

This week would have been another forgotten week, were it not for the handy reminder I put in my phone last Tuesday.

Yesterday, I drove from our home in Connecticut to La Salle University in Philadelphia. The trip is supposed to take about three hours, but was extended when some clown didn’t realize the signs along the Merritt Parkway indicating the low clearance were supposed to be taken seriously and sheered off the top of his box truck, sending someone’s belongings all along the highway. What a mess. The distraction of the traffic gave me more time to sit in silence in the car. More time to pray. More time to think. More time to sing along or listen to podcasts.

For the next few days I will continue my doctoral studies at La Salle. Four friends will wrap up their coursework and take their oral comprehensives this week. We started together and, all things being equal, I would be taking my comps too. But life gets in the way and, like with many things in my life, I am behind. Maybe next year.

As I caught up with friends last night, we chatted about the many distractions that keep our lives and our studies from staying on track. Many of us are delayed in the program because of births and deaths or new jobs and family crisis. One has cancer. Another lost a job. One classmate is a Protestant Minister and just began new ministry with a new congregation. Distractions abound.

I am reminded from this morning’s Gospel reading that sometimes there is great beauty in the distractions. Were it not for the distraction of the woman touching the hem of Jesus’ cloak, she would not have been healed and Jesus would have arrived at the house of the official before the professional mourners. The distractions are the ministry.

My goal this week is to write a 25-page paper on the Catholic Intellectual Tradition and its implications for faith formation in the United States. Between 21 hours of classroom instruction and conversation back in June and a dozen or so articles and books, my biggest hope is to write the paper in such a way that it’s not just a collection of quotes. If I work quickly, I will submit my paper Wednesday morning, go see family in Philadelphia, and head home.

Unless, of course, I get distracted.

Come Holy Spirit

Come, Holy Spirit, grant me patience. Today. Now.

Come, Holy Spirit, grant me wisdom to follow the rules, row in the right direction, work together for the common good.

Come, Holy Spirit, shower me with the knowledge that you are right and just, even when I think I have all the answers.

Come, Holy Spirit, grant me the courage to speak with love.

Come, Holy Spirit, give me the understanding to see clearly what is before me and the right judgment to know when to be quiet, when to speak loudly, when to serve, and when to depart in peace.

Come, Holy Spirit, give me the wonder and the awe that sees that you are here – and there, wherever I may go.

Come, Holy Spirit, help me to pray. Help me to remember that you are in my presence, though I may feel far from yours. Help me to know that you long for me more than I could ever long for you.

Help me, Holy Spirit,  to forgive – and grant me the grace to forget.

Guide me, Holy Spirit, to fill the world with your Hope, your Charity, and your Presence.

Lead me, Holy Spirit, to communicate the Good News you bring to those I meet, where I work, where I pray, and where I live.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill us with your gifts. Teach us, help us, lead us by your grace, to complete the work you started so long ago. Counsel me, guide me, move me, and improve me. Send me out into the world on the breath of the Risen Lord.

Amen.

The Circle of Life and First Communion

What a weekend. One great blessing after another.

Ace Number One – Molly – performed in The Lion King Saturday night in what I have to say was one of the best middle school shows I have ever seen. The Lion King is a powerful story in itself and I have fond memories of seeing it in the theater the summer before big brother Jim died. I remember thinking then how poignant the story was for what Jim was about to endure and I remember the lump in my throat when I looked down the aisle to see Jim cuddling his three-year-old daughter.

Molly’s role wasn’t huge. She was part of the Dashiki Dancers and part of the ensemble that sang back up for the principle actors, but you could hear her voice above the others as she told the story in song. More than 100 young people from the school participated and the costumes, straight out of a Broadway design shop, were amazing. On Sunday, Molly mentioned she wasn’t sure what to do with all her free time (she’s been rehearsing since January). I suggested that her Math grade could use some work, but judging from the look on her face, I am not sure that is what she had in mind.

On Sunday morning, Katie received her First Communion – the last of her generation to do so. All along, Katie had wanted to receive the Blessed Sacrament from Fr. John, our pastor and the last few weeks have been rough for her as she waited patiently for the right time. Her classmates received their First Communion while we were in Syracuse celebrating the same event with one of Katie’s cousins. With the play already on the schedule and with family already traveling so much to be with and then celebrate Maureen’s father, we decided to combine the events so the family could celebrate with us. All of Maureen’s siblings and most of the nieces and nephews came to town, as did the ever-faithful Aunt Maggie, a Daughter of Charity who is preparing for a move out west.

Katie has been ready theologically for some time. She is a funny child who cannot clear her place or shut her dresser drawers but can articulate that she becomes what she receives and that this has implications for how she treats her brother and her sisters and the world around her. I don’t know whether Jesus ever cleared his place, so I pick my battles.

I know I am nowhere near the first person to point out the spiritual significance of The Lion King, but there is a line in one of the songs that has been running through my head all weekend. When it was sung Saturday night, the tissues went up and down the aisle as Maureen and her siblings remembered Pop Pop, who certainly would have been present were he still living. On Sunday morning, I found myself humming the song as I prepared to walk with Katie and Maureen the short distance to Father John. Katie, you see, had brought a picture of Pop Pop with her. She wanted him to attend so badly and thought if she brought a picture, that might help.

He lives in you
He lives in me
He watches over
Everything we see
Into the water
Into the truth
In your reflection
He lives in you

Indeed, it’s true for Pop Pop. But when she heard me humming, Katie also commented that the song makes sense at Church too, because that’s what Communion is all about.

The Circle of Life continues.

Take It To Our Lady

My father was the one who introduced me to Mary. Every day on the way to school, we would pray the Rosary. It is a tradition I came to cherish and have sought to maintain as a parent. Even though the children now take a bus to school, the daily prayers are a practice I try to maintain – in part as a nod to my father and in part because of the power prayer has to focus me on the things that matter most.

But praying can be a challenge. It can be hard to hear above the din. The drive to the office is only a few minutes and I get busy at home or work. The noise around me – or in my own head – distract.

A few years ago, after Maureen was diagnosed with Colon Cancer, we were at a meeting for diocesan leaders that was taking place as part of the National Catholic Youth Conference, which Maureen organizes. In a moment of unscripted sharing, she told those in attendance about her diagnosis and impending surgery.

All of the sudden a women in the middle of the room interrupted her. “Take it to Our Lady,” she called out, and immediately invited all of us to pray the Hail Mary together for Maureen – and each other.

It was a powerful moment. It was a powerful experience. Even today, though the cancer is gone and Maureen’s at full power, it gives me chills. I can still hear that clarion call, “Take it to Our Lady” echoing as though they are instructions for the rest of my life.

For Mother’s Day, the children gave Maureen a statue of Our Lady for the garden in the back. Our friend, Fr. Joe, will bless it in a few weeks and Katie, who makes her First Communion next Sunday and missed the May Crowning as school, will fashion together some flowers and crown Mary – a small nod to another grandparent lost.

This week, I will focus more on prayer. I will go back to the ritual my father taught me and try to stand still before moving forward.

This week, I will take it all – the pain, the ignorance, the cynicism, the joy, the work, the play, the family, the driving, the shopping, and the conversations – all of it – to Our Lady.

And, like my father, I know I will find peace.

Risking Weakness

If society is judged on how we treat our most vulnerable, then surely our brothers and sisters in Washington have work to do. The latest movement of the House of Representatives aside, our elected officials at the local, state, and federal level should be encouraged to give some serious thought to how we care for those most in need – even if they have been sick or depressed, lonely or in crisis, in control of their faculties or struggling to remember – for some time. What some would call pre-existing conditions, others call a way of life.

So this morning, I turned, as I often do, to a book my parents gave me when I left home. Today’s reading was from Matthew 25. The sheep and the goats. How appropriate. For so many years, I thought about this as only a call to care for “the least of my brothers (and sisters).” Sure, it’s a call to help others. But maybe it’s more.

If you read the whole passage you begin to understand its context. Matthew is not just writing about the end time, when those who have helped others will go to heaven and those who ignored those in need will go to hell. It is, instead, a call to live as brothers and sisters of Jesus. Look at Matthew 12: the family of Jesus (his brothers and sisters) are those disciples gathered around him – men, women, children.

So to live like Jesus means to risk being homeless (“the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” cf Mt 8 and Luke 9). To live like Jesus is to be like Jesus, with less concern for the material things of this world and more concern for the welfare of others (cf Mt 19). We have to risk being hungry. We have to risk being ostracized. We have to risk being poor (all this is in Matthew too).

It’s not just that the rich must help the poor or those with much must offer what they have to those who have not, it’s more than that. To live like Jesus means to risk being weak so that we might receive from those whom we are called to serve. It is easy to think of Jesus as the only teacher in the crowd, but every good teacher learns from the student.

If society is judged – if any of us are judged – by how we treat those who are most in need, perhaps the judgement begins when we decide what we are willing to risk in service to others.