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.

On The Road Again

I have been thinking about the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. So much has been written about the two men and how “he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

I imagine Jesus having a great time knowing he wasn’t recognized. He converses with them, chides them, even plays the fool so their doubts are made clear, paving the way for the teacher to invite the students into a greater understanding of the Truth.

But one thing always bothered me about that story. As a young man, I was always a bit dumbfounded that Jesus didn’t introduce himself.

As a parent, I realize that He seldom does.

Instead, we find God in the laughter of the children who are young enough to still experience joy while the adults around them settle for happiness.

We find God in the man on the corner asking for money – but only if we are aware enough that the children are watching and switching lanes carries as powerful a message as rolling the window down and offering what we can.

We find God in the springtime when we are surrounded by new life, but only if we pause from medicating ourselves against the pollen.

We find Him in holding hands, a good night kiss, a blessing on the forehead, and a hug instead of a shout.

We find Him in the messiness of house and home.

We find Him in the busyness of work.

And we find Him in the people we love – and those we struggle to love – if only our eyes are open.

Open my eyes, Lord. Help me to see your face.

 

 

 

Artwork by He Qi

My Lord and My God

I get Thomas. I get why he needed to see the wounds. Like you, I struggle. I doubt. I wonder. I’ve put all my eggs in this basket, after all, and there are moments I look up and think, “This better be true.”

I think we all do. All honest people anyway.

We pray for the sick and they die anyway.

We pray for patience and the virtue still eludes us.

We pray for strength and courage and wisdom and still find ourselves weak and scared and dumb.

We pray for clarity of thought and still get lost in the minutia.

I get Thomas. And I take comfort in the fact that our church canonized the doubter and let the guy who denied be its first leader. Talk about human frailty.

But one of the things that has always fascinated me is that Thomas, for all his whining that he wouldn’t believe, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side…’ the Gospel writer never actually says Thomas touches Jesus.

It is the mere presence of the Risen Lord in front of Thomas that makes this honest disciple cry out.

And so it is with us. We don’t have to touch. We just have to be in the presence of Jesus.

And so, because of faith, we look at the sick and the lonely and the dying and we see the resurrection and good health that awaits us all.

Because of faith, we recognize the opportunities to be patient that are put before us by a Savior who invites us to be better than we are.

Because of faith, we find our strength and courage and wisdom in those sent to carry us, support us, and teach us (and maybe even challenge us).

Because of faith, we see the big picture. We know the end of the story. We cry on Friday and rejoice on Sunday and know that the winners write the history books.

Because of faith, we know that “the relationship is changed, not ended” and that those we love and lose remain with us and in us and all around us.

I get Thomas. And with him, I cry out: longingly, adamantly, fervently.

“My Lord and My God.”

And He cries right back, “Here I am.”

Thank God for Easter. Alleluia. Alleluia.