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.

Getting Real

Moving got real over the weekend.

Packing up the house and finding another was exciting. Starting a new job was a welcomed joy. Picking out bedrooms and making new friends was an adventure. All the back and forth is tiring, but anytime you pack up and go away with kids, there are moments of fun and enthusiasm.

But Sunday things got real for all of us.

Our pastor called us forth at the end of Mass and asked the parishioners we have worshipped beside to join him in bestowing a blessing for departing parishioners. He was clear not to use the blessing for departed parishioners and I appreciated the distinction. As we stood there, child number two took my hand, child number one started to choke up. So did Maureen. So did I. There is something special about a place where you have been every weekend for years. A place where your children’s feet were washed and souls nourished. A place where you have bid farewell to friends and seen other begin their lives together. A place where dozens upon dozens of babies have been baptized and where, upon seeing it will happen, the faithful rejoice instead of grumble at the thought of Mass taking a little longer that morning.

We will miss the people we know only by where they sit. We will miss the parish staff and the deacons. We will miss the pastor, a treasured friend whose homilies were often peppered with quotes from people as varied as the parishioners themselves. Anyone who can work Annie Dillard, Oscar Wilde, and Thomas Merton into a homily and still tie it into the readings of the day is among the most well read of his brothers.

On Thursday, the children will repeat the scene at a school that will be even harder to leave. Saying goodbye to their friends will be tough, but in this day and age of Skype and instant messaging, those friendships will last. But saying goodbye to the teachers, especially the Oblate Sisters of St. Francis de Sales, will be nothing short of overwhelming. These incredible women of faith have welcomed our family into their home, recognized that parents are the first teachers in the ways of faith and should be partners in educating the young, and have lived every day as a model of love and joy and hopefulness. They ask the children to be their best selves, nothing more, nothing less. They challenge the children to live Jesus with great conviction because each day that is exactly what these sisters do. They are unequaled, unmatched, unbelievably generous, and our children will always be better for having been in their presence.

In a flash it will be over. The new school awaits. We have found a home at a new parish with great music and incredible preaching. We are excited about the new challenges and Maureen and I will be glad all the driving will cease (not to mention the $700+ in tolls since February). We will bring back movie night, which the children have missed since not being together. Pancake day will switch to Sundays so Maureen can begin a new tradition: walking with the women of “the circle” down the block to the diner for Saturday breakfast. Clean sheets are on the bed and the lego creations made with care and skill in their temporary living quarters, made it home safely last night.

Life begins again on Thursday. We will begin this new chapter as we end every school year: following the tradition started by my father. After a light dinner, we will enjoy all you can eat, make it yourself, ice cream sundaes. Life is good.

Hurry children. Hurry Maureen. Connecticut is waiting. The house is ready.

It’s time to come home.

Worth Reading

If you have not yet had a chance to read the latest exhortation by Pope Francis, I would encourage you to take the time to do so. If you fear it might be overwhelming, at least look online at the official summary.

Amoris Laetitia or The Joy of Love is essentially a love letter to the faithful. It is not, as so many hoped (and as the media would have liked), a change in church teaching. That really is not the Pope’s style. Rather, like he does with so many homilies, writing, and addresses, Pope Francis simply clarifies what the Church has always taught using language and analogies more relatable to today’s world.

The Pope is clear: the Church does not change because people want it to or the media expects it to. The Church is called to reflection but must always be grounded in the Gospel. The Church may be a love story, but it is not the kind of story where the majority gets to write the ending they would like to see.

I appreciate the way Pope Francis talks about family life, its struggles, challenges, and joys. He notes that in this age of idealism and individualism, it is hard for some people to give their lives over to another. Generosity of spirit takes work. Marriage takes work. Parenting takes work. But family is a vocation, a calling, and all families are challenged to live, as St. John Paul wrote, “the Church in miniature.” Families are “the domestic church” and are called to live in the home as we would before the altar. That is a tall order when the eight year old is screaming, the house is a mess, and company is on its way.

If you are married, reach chapter four together. It talks about love in marriage and is simply beautiful.

The Pope also writes about preparing couples for marriage (even hinting at dealing with bridezilla), and how we can educate our young more effectively, and how in this year of mercy, all are called to be merciful. Again, great reading.

For those of us in pastoral ministry, we are treated to a specific challenge: “At times we find it hard to make room for God’s unconditional love in our pastoral activity. We put so many conditions on mercy that we empty it of its concrete meaning and real significance. That is the worst way of watering down the Gospel” (AL 311). Like he did in Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis reminds those who work for the Church that ministry is never about me and never about you. It is about the Lord working through you and me.

In the end, the Pope reminds us “No family drops down from heaven perfectly formed” (AL 325). It takes work. It takes patience. It takes love.

In short, it takes Jesus.

Many of us have the day off of work. Put down the iPad, the rake, or the broom. Put away the mower and take a break from the mulch.

Then click here (or here) and read enjoy.

From House to Home

Selling the house quickly was a mixed blessing. Since we were out of town when it happened, we were spared the obligatory cleaning every time the phone rang to report a showing had been scheduled. It also meant that we needed to find a new home quickly. So on the coldest weekend of the winter (it never got above zero degrees in Connecticut), Maureen brought the children north and we set out on our search. Any move can be hard on children but we are blessed with the kind of children who see things more as an adventure than a chore. It was not like they had a say in the matter, but I was grateful they found such joy in the journey.

The eldest child came armed with a notebook and pen and set about rating the kitchen, bedrooms, play area, and yard according to the specifications of any child in a family who had watched nearly every episode of Fixer Upper. Looking back, it would seem as though the shows our children enjoy, on the rare occasions they see television, had prepared us well for this move. Perhaps it was the Spirit that moved us to get the children hooked on shows like Fixer Upper and their other favorite Tiny House Nation. Both will come in handy.

The first house we visited was a bank-owned property and the previous owners had taken most of what was not nailed down – and some things that were. The kitchen and bedrooms rated poorly in the “house book” and so we moved on.

I had seen the second house on a visit north in January when the eight year old and a priest friend had traveled with me to deliver furniture to my new office at the Catholic Center. We all agreed it was a great house but the price was high, it needed work, and there was a pending offer on it so we would have to bid against an unknown number and roll the dice. So we got a lesson in a Hubbard Clause and moved on.

Now, three weeks later, we were back in the house with the family in tow. I could tell from Maureen’s reaction that this place was a strong contender, so I asked the agent to check on the offer. We had no interest in a bidding war. The agent returned from the bitter outside with a smile. The contingency had been just been removed. We could make a bid and not worry about having to beat an offer we could not see. We gathered the children, all of whom had already staked a claim on a bedroom, and moved on.

We saw six more houses that day – eight in total – and another four the following day. Only two compared to Old Oaks, aptly named by the eldest and her notebook.

Circling back to Old Oaks on day two, we had to wait outside for another family to finish their tour. Word had gotten out that the Hubbard Clause had been removed and I knew we had a winner when the youngest muttered, “Get those people out of our house.”

In the end, we returned home and got to work on making an offer. There were other interested buyers who submitted questions and considered making offers but since the sellers grew up a mile from where we now lived in Delaware, they chose to work with us. After some back and forth, we had bought a house.

We closed on Holy Thursday after a very long Wednesday of Holy Week, where movers who had sworn it would take about eight hours finally wrapped up the furniture-loading after almost 13 hours. Then a team of trusted friends and neighbors descended on the kitchen and packed a second truck with “the essentials” that would make the trip on closing day. (Note to self: next time we should pack a lamp, some pots and pans, and maybe a chair or two in the essential truck. Live and learn.)

The first night in the house we started taking down a ceiling on the sunroom and the next day we attacked the circa 1978 wallpaper in the dining room. Only Maureen, the eldest child, and I had made the trip, thanks to the ever willing Aunt Eileen and her generous care of the other children. Maureen took a train back to Baltimore on Holy Saturday and Molly and I finished the painting. As we stood admiring our work in the dusk of that holy night, a herd of deer walked by the window, paused as if to nod, “Welcome,” and moved on. As my Ace-Number-One leaned against me and we watched these impressive animals stroll through the yard, I knew it was a moment I would never forget.

Three weeks later I went to the bank to open a local account. It was near closing time and the man behind the desk seemed ready to leave. He asked questions about what I did and where I worked and why I would leave tax-free Delaware for tax-on-anything Connecticut, and finally, he asked for my address. I had only gotten the numbers out when he gripped the desk and went pale.

I knew as soon as I saw his face what had happened. I knew when he gripped the desk that he could not believe his dumb luck at having to wait on this customer. So I took a chance and said quietly, “It was you, wasn’t it?”

“Yes,” was all he said, and after a brief pause of trying to collect himself added, “For five and a half months, we tried to sell our condo to buy that house. We had to sell the condo to get the money for the deposit. Only last night did we finally put enough money aside for the twenty percent required. So we went on Zillow and found the house was gone.”

We talked for an hour.

He told me about about his plans for the house. I told him what we had already accomplished and what we planned to do when money was available. I told him about how the night the kids arrived and three families from the neighboring houses came out to welcome us – each with children the ages of ours. I told him about the deer. I told him about the kids running around the acre of property as if it were the Promised Land. I told him I was sorry it didn’t work out for him and his wife and their newborn. I told him I wished him luck as they continued to search. But I never told him that our offer included only a ten percent deposit.

As we finished our conversation in the parking lot, he turned and said, “Take care of that house. I still may buy it someday.”

“It’s not a house,” I thought to myself.

“It’s a home.”

Our home.

Thank you, God, for all the ways you surprise us.

Genesis

Life is full of twists and turns, high and lows, bridges and tunnels.

Sometimes, it’s filled with boxes and tape.

Since mid-September 2015 the voice of Five Minutes on Monday has been silent. It took a break because I took a break. I appreciate those of you that have missed it, asked for its return, and kept reminding me that I had promised it would be back. I had hoped that it would come back during Lent, then for Easter Monday, and now, finally for Pentecost. What an appropriate time to begin again.

The Spirit is blowing strong across the Diocese of Bridgeport. The blessings of a visionary leader, the blessings of a staff that understand ministry and its importance in the life of the Church, the blessings of new friends and new challenges – all fill my mind with a reminder one can never outdo God when it comes to generosity.

I have been challenged to start a new institute dedicated to the formation of those called to serve our Church in ministry. It will serve as the headquarters for learning for those who currently serve in ministry, those who wish to serve in ministry, and those who simply want to learn more about our faith. Officially, it will launch in November 2016. Between now and then we have to get the technology and structure ready for those who will participate. I have not been challenged like this in years. What a great adventure!

The move to Connecticut was Spirit-led, of that I have no doubt. We sold our home in four days, bought a new one in two, packed up 11 years of living in Bear and sixteen years of working in Wilmington, and headed north up the interstate 95 and across the near occasion of sin they call the George Washington Bridge.

The beauty of the area makes up for the sales tax and in many, many ways – big and small – we have found a home.

Maureen continues to divide her time between Gelena, MD, where she and the children are staying, Childs, MD where the children are finishing school, and Starbucks and McDonald’s, where the wifi allows her to get some work done for the NFCYM. She and the children have spent countless hours in the car and loads of money on tolls traveling the turnpike finding new ways to reach home. First one bridge. Then another. Then the longer way without bridges (or tolls)! Some weekends they drive here. Some weekends I drive there. Once the school year is over they will leave Maryland and the kindness of our friends housing them there and move once and for all to our new home in Fairfield, CT.

There will be time to tell you about our new home, my new ministry, the many blessings we have encountered here, and the wonderful friends we have made in the few short weeks we have been in town.

For now, let me simply say thank you to all those with whom I was blessed to serve in Wilmington and the surrounding towns and cities. If you would like to stay in touch, use the box to the right to subscribe to Five Minutes. Spread the word and let the list of subscribers begin anew.

On this feast of Pentecost, may we remember that Easter is celebrated every Sunday, that the Holy Spirit gives us the strength we need to recognize the Risen Christ all around us, and that even when darkness surrounds us – we are an Easter people and “Alleluia” is our song.

There is so much good work to be done in this chaotic Church of ours.

Let us begin.