Carrying Christ

One of the first graduate courses I took at Notre Dame was taught by the now-retired Bishop Robert Morneau of Green Bay, Wisconsin. It was called Faith in Fiction and we spent our time together studying writers like Flannery O’Connor and poets like the Carmelite nun, Jessica Powers. But one of the first poems the good Bishop used in class was about today’s Gospel readings. It was written by the late Ruth Mary Fox and offers a great challenge 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 dishonesty on both sides of the proverbial aisle, we are challenge this week to ask ourselves this important question:

“How will we carry Christ this week?”

 

 

Amused at the Park

The children and I spent a day last week at the local amusement park. It is called Quassy and the kids named it Connecticut’s version to Lancaster’s Dutch Wonderland, which used to be part of our summer tradition. Though smaller and boasting less rides, the park is manageable and affordable, two things often missing from similar parks. Since the admission to the park was included in the day camp our local parks and recs hosts, I decided to save the kids from the bus ride and join them. Plus, child number two is a bit skittish on some of the rides so it helped to have Dad along.

We started at the swinging chairs. Every year since she was tall enough to ride them, child number one has sought to conquer the ride. This year, her brother joined her. In past years, the screams coming from my first born would have passers by thinking someone was dismembering her and then there was the one year the operator stopped the ride early. To be fair, the bar on the front of the chair had come down and split my lip and since she was sitting behind me screaming, the teenage  operator saw the blood on her shirt (flying off my lip), heard her screams, and wondered what he had done wrong. But I digress.

This year, she climbed aboard, buckled herself in and pulled her hat down over her face. No screams. She later commented that if she didn’t look, she wasn’t scared, and could just enjoy the ride. There is a lesson in there for life in general, I am sure.

Then it was off to the wooden roller coaster. “I’m not going,” child number two repeats the entire 20 minutes in line. “I’ll wait with you,” I think to myself. But as we near our turn, she summoned the courage and off we went. Two thoughts went through my mind as we hit the first hill: First, I am taller than most of the youngsters on this ride and I really hope the designers of this ride took that into consideration for that tunnel up there. Second, the bar, though tight on me, has left significant room for the child next to me to wiggle around and if she falls out, her mother will kill me.

Unless they are filled with actual tea, I don’t do teacups.

The pirate ship was my undoing. Back and forth motion makes me ill and it didn’t help that the eight year old next to me kept coming off the seat as the ride made its return trip down and then up again. Half way through, he say, “Okay, I’m good, we can stop now.” I explained that it doesn’t really work like that as I close my eyes and hold him tightly. The oldest child, who took her sisters to the merry-go-round while we were getting nauseas, is waiting for us at the exit and say, “I thought you hated that ride.”

“I do,” I said, “But I love your brother.”

“So do I,” she says pointing back to the ride, “But not that much.”

We hit the other rides in due time and the water park was a nice place to sit and watch the kids run hither and yon while I took a nap. “When did I get old?” I think as I sit in the shade and close my eyes, wondering why no adults work at this place.

The end of the day sees us parked at the bumper cars for four or five turns. The lines in the park have dwindled and Joe, the teenager running the ride lets the kids go again and again. I find the bumper cars to be both exhilarating and counter-intuitive. I was taught not to hit things when I drive, so I instinctively swerve around the cars and navigate the traffic in the pen around and around without hitting anything. “You’re doing it wrong,” Joe says over the intercom, mocking my abilities to steer clear of the others. Then, wham, the kids have ganged up on me and hit me from all sides. They shout with glee as Joe tells them to do it again. “Everyone hit the man in the blue car,” he announces, pleased with himself. I consider trying to jump the tracks to hit Joe with my car, but enjoy the moment of bliss on my youngest child’s face instead.

“Have fun teaching them how to drive,” Joe calls as we depart. I laugh, praying that day will stay far away, knowing deep down it will be here before I know it.

“Home again, home again, jiggity jig,” I announce like I always do when it’s time to head back to base. I am hoping they will sleep. I am hoping the sun has exhausted them.

If only wishing made it so.

Three Steps

Looking ahead to this week’s Gospel readings had me searching through the archives of this blog when it appeared in another form. I love the reading about walking on water (Mt 14). It puts me in the mood for impossible things. So here is the earlier reflection with some updates:

I can imagine the storm, the darkness, and the fear. I can imagine what it must have been like to feel alone, wondering if anyone would help as the waves got bigger and I feel smaller. It’s like that feeling you get when you are in bed and you swear you hear a noise…and you freeze. It gives me chills just thinking about it.

Then Jesus comes along – wait, is that Jesus? Sometimes I don’t recognize Him. Is He in a boat? Or are we that close to shore? No, wait. He is walking on the water. Holy cow. It’s like He is stepping on stones as he comes closer and closer.

Then Peter, that rock, that steady but sometimes dim witted leader, says something to Jesus and Jesus responds. What are they talking about? Then Pete hops out of the boat and starts walking on the water too. This is incredible. I forget about the storm. I forget about my fear. I am watching the impossible; or rather two men doing the impossible.

Suddenly Peter begins sinking. What did he say? He must have called out, because Jesus reached after him and brought him to safety, but he had that look on his face, Jesus did…that look that says, “Why do you persist in your unbelief? Why are you so hard hearted?” I’ve seen that look before.

Later Jesus is asleep and we are giving Peter a hard time. He did, after all, lose faith and start to sink. If it weren’t for Jesus he probably would have drowned.

Peter takes it all in stride. He just listens for a bit and then starts to smile. It’s a smile that comes from knowing the Truth.

“Three steps,” he say. We are silent.

“Three steps,” he repeats.

“How many steps did you take on the water? I may have started sinking, but I took three more steps than the rest of you…”

He is right. We are well rebuked.

Jesus will be all around me this week and in many cases, I probably won’t recognize Him. I am often distracted by life.

“Three steps,” I say to myself.

How many steps will you take this week?

 

Photo: Sea of Galilee, taken on visit with CRS in 2000

 

Five Years On

As I look back on the five years since we lost Dad, I am moved this morning by the reading from the second letter of Paul to the Corinthians.

Brothers and sisters:
We hold this treasure in earthen vessels,
that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.

Dad taught us that we are not in control. Ours should be a life of quiet service to others, not one of power or prestige.

We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained;
perplexed, but not driven to despair;
persecuted, but not abandoned;
struck down, but not destroyed;

In the last few months of his life, Dad came to know what persecution really meant. Still, he was a man of prayer and confidence, never despairing, never losing hope. Though he knew the ending of the story, he filled its pages well, living intentionally, knowing that each day mattered.

…always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.

He knew he became what he received, so he received the Body and Blood of Christ often. He let Jesus live in him and through him and with him.

For we who live are constantly being given up to death
for the sake of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

The ups and downs of life are a shared effort between us and Christ, so long as we remember that we are rooted in Him. If we connect our sufferings to Christ, so too will we share in Jesus’ resurrection.

So death is at work in us, but life in you.

The relationship is changed, not ended.

Since, then, we have the same spirit of faith,
according to what is written, I believed, therefore I spoke,
we too believe and therefore speak,
knowing that the one who raised the Lord Jesus
will raise us also with Jesus
and place us with you in his presence.

Dad professed his faith proudly, knowing that care for his wife and family – bringing others to Christ through himself – was his ticket home to God.

Everything indeed is for you,
so that the grace bestowed in abundance on more and more people
may cause the thanksgiving to overflow for the glory of God.

Thank you, Dad, for who you were and what you continue to be in our lives. We miss you every day and give thanks again and again for all you taught us about life, love, and peace.

Signs

In today’s Gospel reading from Matthew, we hear some of the scribes and Pharisees demand of Jesus, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.”

Wouldn’t that be nice?

As violence begets more violence and the world seems to go indiscriminately mad around us, wouldn’t it be great to get a sign from God that everything was going to be okay and that if we really try, we can achieve peace?

And yet those signs are here. In the children who resolve differences without fists, in the parents who love their children without hitting them, in the neighbors who learn to get along, in the countries that settle disputes without declaring war. We ask for signs from God while we ignore the presence of God around us. Like the man waiting to be rescued from the flood, we miss the radio announcement, the boat, and the helicopter….you know the story.

Once upon a time, when Gandhi sought to enter a church, he was told he was not welcomed. “I’d be a Christian,” he was reported to have said, “If only the Christians acted like Christians.”

Perhaps this week we can find the signs of God around us. Perhaps this week we could look for opportunities to spread peace instead of violence, joy instead of fear, love instead of anger.

Because I am willing to bet, if you look around, God is here.

Waiting to be recognized.

The Ditch

I’ve been thinking all weekend about Sunday’s Gospel reading. It is one of my favorite parables and I used to love when it would come up in class when I was teaching. But as I reflect on the events of the last year or so, the parable has taken on new meaning for me as I wonder how that scenario would play out in today’s world.

Someone would probably have video taped the attack on the man as he traveled down the dangerous road and then they would have posted it online. Every talk show would be checking in with experts to discuss why the priest and the Levite did not stop to help the man in the ditch and how much culpability they shared in the man’s plight. The Samaritan would be hailed as a hero and his story would be made into a movie.

But others would ask: “Why couldn’t the man just get up on his own?” “Why do the priest and Levite get a pass?” “Why does the Samaritan get honored for doing what he ought to do?”

They would ask those question because they have never been in a ditch.

The reality is the man couldn’t get up. I imagine it might have been because of the beating he experienced at the hands of the robbers. But most people know it isn’t always a physical reason that lands you in a ditch. Once in a great while you experience something so powerful and painful that you simply cannot help yourself. Call it depression. Call it addiction. Call it a crisis. Call it whatever you want. It’s an abyss, a darkness, and it can envelop you.

How we respond to those in the ditch says an awful lot about where we are in our own journey. It says a lot about who we are as children of God.

The truth is we are always on a journey. We are, by our nature, unfinished. By the grace of God, we are always longing for more. We must be patient. With ourselves. With each other. We must, in the words of Teilhard de Chardin, “trust in the slow work of God.”

But being unfinished is not an excuse to ignore the need around us. Longing for more does not give us permission to pass by on the other side of the road.

Who around you sits in darkness this week? Who around needs a hand? Who among you lies helpless in a ditch?

And what do you plan to do about it?

 

 

Artwork: “The Good Samaritan” by Paula Modersohn-Becker, 1907.

Celebrating Freedom

Oh Lord, be with us as we celebrate…

Freedom from want, as we count our many blessings;

Freedom from oppression, as we pray in the open;

Freedom from hunger, as we gather at table;

Freedom from hatred, as we love one another;

Freedom from sorrow, as we recall the joy of resurrection;

Freedom from ignorance, as we encounter You in others;

Freedom from fear, as we look to tomorrow with hope.

 

May your day be filled with family, friends, and faithfulness.

Amen.

 

————

Update

For those who have been keeping up with Kathleen Edwards, former youth minister at Resurrection parish in Wilmington, please visit www.caringbridge.org/visit/kathleenedwards and continue to pray for Kathleen and her doctors.

Holding Hands

As we walked the neighbor’s dog the other day, something happened that changed my day entirely. I had worn flip-flops as we left the house, not expecting to walk a mile with the dog or the children. But as we drove towards Home Depot (where they know us by name at this point), the children remembered they needed to feed and water Digby, so we stopped at our neighbor’s house. No problem, I thought, I can sit in the car while they complete their chores. They had failed to mention a walk was part of the deal.

So off we went around the circle. About half-way through the first loop, the youngest sighed and announced that having a dog is hard (she’s not much of a walker) and it would be easier if I carried her. I told her that wasn’t going to happen. She was hot, I was hot, and she is not as small as she used to be.

Another deep sigh from the seven year old.

Then, as if resigned to continuing our journey, she simply slipped her hand in mine.

As a parent, there is something very sweet when a child slips his or her hand in yours. All at once it gives you a feeling of pride and a sense of responsibility. She knew she was safe with me. She knew she could keep up if she stayed in step with dad. She knew she would not get lost, left behind, or left out if she simply held on.

As we walked, I wondered what went through her mind in the moments before she took my hand. We teach our children to hold our hands when they are very little and we are crossing the street. We teach our children to hold our hands in the store when the crowds are overwhelming. Though they fight about it, squeeze one another’s hands too hard, and generally annoy one another we hold hands when we pray at Mass. Sometimes on movie nights, when the movie is scary and the characters on the screen face the unknown, we hold hands. Somehow, the act of touching someone makes the unknown more bearable.

Do you remember the first time you held the hand of someone you loved as an adult? That moment there was a connection, a spark, a nervous calm as you realized you were falling in love?

It still overwhelms me sometimes to think about how much responsibility comes with raising children. Inside, I am still a child wishing I could hold the hand of my father or mother.

I know that the day is coming when the hands of my children will grow too big to hold. The day will come when they will reach for someone else’s hand to make them feel safe.

For now, however, I will hold on. I will protect them. I will guide them safely across the busy streets. And I will cherish the moments when they slip their hands in mine and, despite all my faults, trust that I will walk them home.

A Very Good Day

 

The first Father’s Day in our new home started with the family going to Mass together, breakfast at a local diner, and then for a short drive up the road – but it was Spirit led all the way.

The new issue of Time magazine arrived on Saturday and when child number three saw the list of names of those killed in Orlando, the questions started. “Why did they die?” (The same question is posed by the magazine itself.) “Who killed them?” “Why would he do that?” “Why do people shoot people?” “What’s a nightclub?”

All good questions, but I have to be honest that the last one made me laugh. These children have boring parents.

Sunday morning at Mass, Fr. John gave a stirring homily about the patience of God as we mere mortals take our time learning to love, honor, and respect each others. After all, it took centuries to unchain slavery from the modern world and longer still for women to even have the right to vote. His words reminded me that there are places in the world still learning such things and while we shake our heads in disgust at their inability to see things clearly, we continue to allow very bad people to do very bad things while we hide behind a document meant to protect freedoms, not facilitate murder.

But it was the homily and the reaction from the assembly (thunderous applause, a rarity for any Catholic church) that got the children talking again. The line was short at Chip’s Diner so we celebrated Father’s Day and continued the conversation over pancakes. Then, as we drove up highway 25, we told the children another story that they were bound to hear sooner or later.

We told them about Sandy Hook. We told them about Newtown. We told them about the wonderful woman I met who lost her daughter that morning. And we told them about the brave priest and parish staff and firefighters and police officers that took such great care of the families. Fifteen minutes later we were in front of the firehouse that appeared in the papers and on television for weeks after that fateful day in December 2012. The 26 stars that decorate the firehouse roof serve as a subtle reminder to the community.

Since any story of tragedy is made better with ice cream, we stopped at Holy Cow, a local ice cream walk up shop that sells a dish called Bishop Frank, our local ordinary (and my boss) and Father Bob, the local pastor whose actions at Sandy Hook and advocacy for gun safety are well noted.

On the way home, we sang. The children, as children do, absorbed what they could, asked what they needed to, and then recaptured the day with silliness, laughter, and song. It turns out when you substitute certain words about flatulence in songs about love, the songs get a lot funnier. I have never met Adele or Pharrell Williams, but my guess is they would have laughed too.

At home, we napped (okay, I napped), Mom and the girls swung in the hammock reading the Little House on the Prairie series, and, when I woke up, child number three and I demolished some ugly shelving in the basement that we have wanted to remove since moving in.

I don’t remember a day as packed with emotions as yesterday. I don’t remember a weekend where we got as much accomplished around the house. I don’t remember a conversation filled with so many questions. I don’t remember a car ride filled with so much laughter.

It was a good weekend. It was a good day.

It is good to be home.

Names

Their mothers and fathers gave them names. Hugged them. Fed them. Carried them. They sent them off to school, packed their lunches, corrected their homework, and signed their tests. Their brothers and sisters shared their rooms, inspired them, fought with them, borrowed their clothes, and protected them.

They had friends, co-workers, bosses, employees, partners, husbands, and wives. They drove cars, took buses, checked books out of the library, and rented movies.

They lived in Columbine, Ft. Hood, San Bernadino, Charleston, Sandy Hook, Orlando, and too many other cities to name.

So we will cry and wear ribbons, light candles and say prayers. We will remember them and care for those they leave behind. And these are good things. These are appropriate actions.

But will we learn anything?

Will we stop to talk about how this happens? Will we talk about guns? Will we talk about the bullets? Will we talk about the hate, the indifference, or the banality of it all?

We have to resist the urge to let the talking heads on television reduce it to allegiance to a foreign movement. We have to talk about it, even as we talk about the victims.

It’s not enough to say that love wins.

We have to act as though it really does.

And that requires action, conversation, and maybe even change.

The headlines will list the number of victims. Headlines always do.

But the numbers had names.

And they deserve more than headlines.