Gratitude and Forgiveness – A Parishioner Reflection

Father Solanus Casey, the humble Capuchin Friar and simplex priest, who was canonized on November 18, 2017, in Detroit, said: “Poor humanity’s sorrow—ingratitude. Humanity’s outstanding weakness seems to be a thoughtless want of appreciation for the uncountable blessing by which Almighty God is surrounding it. . . .”  Until recently, we in the United States have been particularly fortunate.  However, the hateful language of the past couple of years, especially during the election campaigns and the vindictiveness of protestors and counter-protestors all over the country has changed the conversation and has taken our country in an entirely different direction.  The terrifying events of the last several weeks. . .the lone gambler in Las Vegas who planned, apparently for a whole year, his attack on a group of strangers . . .sitting in a comfortable hotel room pouring bullets down on people he couldn’t even distinguish, killing 59, and injuring more than 500 others—the disaffected 29 year old immigrant admitted under the “Diversity Visa Program” who plotted for months for his rampage in a rented truck through a shade bike path in New York, killing as many runners, walkers and cyclists he could.  Total strangers all . . .shouting for the glory of “his God”. . . then the disturbed young veteran who took his guns to a rural church in Texas killing 26 men, women and children, and wounding at least twenty more. . . returning to his vehicle where more guns were stored to continue!  Lately, a suicide bomber in New York City who, fortunately, was not successful in a plan to kill many.

At least two of these events are directly connected with a radical version of Islam which is a complete distortion of the peaceful religion established centuries ago by Prophet Mohammed. Hate breeds hate, breeds more hate.  Only love extended to God and to neighbor wherever the neighbor is found, can change all of that.  The disastrous acts we are experiencing in the United States and Canada now are the kinds of events people in other parts of the world have been suffering throughout the centuries.  The goals of our forefathers were to change all that; they left home and loved ones, fought and died to achieve the freedom we have so long cherished.  We must return to those goals; we must pray for our country and we must love our God and our neighbor regardless of the color of his/her skin, rich and poor, schooled and unschooled, religious and irreligious.

Again, there is the tragic case of a Pakistani Catholic Christian woman, Asiya Noreen Bibi, better known as Asia Bibi.  In June of 2009, she was harvesting berries in a field near her native village in Punjab, Pakistan with other women.  An argument broke out. One accused her of blaspheming Prophet Mohammed, a charge she vigorously denied.  Asia was arrested and jailed. Her case was heard in the local District Court.  In November of 2010, she was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.  An overflow crowd in the courtroom roared approval, shouting: “Kill her! Kill her! Kill her!”  Asia has been in jails in various locations since 2009.  Petitions have been filed from all over the world in her behalf.  Pope Benedict XVI, called for dismissal of the charges.  Many Muslim leaders called for her release.  Two Pakistani leaders championed her case– a Christian minister, Shahbaz Bhai, and a Muslim politician, Salmaan Taseer, were assassinated for their efforts in her behalf.  Hate breeds hate!

Asia is married and a mother of five children.  From her cell last year at Easter, she composed a prayer: “Resurrected Lord, allow your daughter Asia to rise again with you.  Break my chains, make my heart free and go beyond those bars, and accompany my soul so that it is close to those who are dear to me, and that it remains always near you.  Do not abandon me in the day of trouble, do not deprive me of your presence.  You who have suffered the tortures of the cross, alleviate my suffering.  Hold me near you Lord Jesus.  On the day of your resurrection, Jesus, I want to pray for my enemies, for those who hurt me.  I pray for them and I beg you to forgive them for the harm they have done me.  I ask you, Lord, to remove all obstacles so that I may obtain the blessing of freedom.  I ask you to protect me and protect my family.”

Hate breeds hate!  Only love can save us and our fellow human beings.  Can we not remember the need for gratitude and forgiveness in our daily lives, and put aside the small slights and humiliations that come to all of us?  Can we not listen respectfully to the ideas and beliefs of those who see things differently?  Can we not reach out to neighbor and stranger with the gentleness and hope of Asia?  MMD.

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Unlocking the Mystery of a Child – A Parishioner Reflection

As we greet the members of the latest generation of our family, (four this year and counting) I ponder what their future will be.  I know the awesome responsibility of parents to each small babe placed in their arms.  For so many new parents today, easy access to extended family is not as available as it was when I was a child growing up.  I grew up in a small Illinois town, close to other small towns where many of my parents’ extended families lived and were available to help.  Aunts, uncles and cousins had time for us and they exercised it.  We saw them frequently, and they played an active role in molding our lives in more ways than we appreciated at the time.

Even when my husband and I were raising our big family, we both worked in a demanding profession, relied less upon the help of grandparents and other relatives to assist us.  We attended all the school, sports and recreational events ourselves.  We hired people to help with household chores, child care, etc.  But for the most part, we were a “nuclear” family (though a large one) before the term was coined.  That is even more true today when many young parents live thousands of miles away from grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, across the country and around the globe.  We and they keep in touch by phone, email, social media, Skype, Snapchat and so on.  They do not experience the day to day life of the village.

The young Jewish teenager who became the Mother of Jesus, and grew to be the Mother of us all, grew up in a small village, surrounded by family.  Her sainted parents, Joachim and Anna prepared her well for her courageous “yes”…the Yes that changed the world.  There will never be another Virgin Mary.  There will never be another Mother of God, and of the Universe.  But all babies come into the world with potential for goodness and even greatness.  How parents, grandparents, and extended family can contribute to their future is a mystery.  The babes, themselves, are mysteries.  None of us were trained to be parents, none of us know the future, nor do we have keys to unlock the potential of these new little ones.  But we can provide unconditional love.  We can pray endlessly for them throughout our earthly lives, and in the world to come.  We can teach them in words and actions Who God is.  We can help them discern their special talents and skills.  God, has, and has always had, a unique plan for each child born into the world.  Let us prayerfully, humbly, lovingly ask the God of the Universe to show us how we can help them to be who He has designed them to be.  MMD

The Journey of the 72 and What It Has To Tell Us Today – A Parishioner Reflection

As a part of the formation process, prior to ordination, young Jesuits are sent on a journey similar to the biblical journey of the 72 disciples sent by Jesus.  They are given a small stipend, about $30-35, and a ticket to a place of their own choosing.  They are directed to carry with them only the barest necessities, and to find their own way for a period of 30 to 60 days.  They must find a way to support themselves, by part-time work, begging, or by whatever honest means, to find shelter, and to encounter people wherever they are at. The purpose of the journey is to prepare themselves for the challenges they will meet after ordination, when they are sent to any mission chosen by the provincial. Jesuits do travel the world. They take a vow of obedience, and go wherever they are sent. The idea for this journey is based upon the vision of Ignatius when he founded the Jesuit Order more than 500 years ago, when he chose with his fellow Jesuits the missionary charism of the Order, “service to the whole world.”

Differences in talents, personality, character, and ingenuity of each individual dictate the nature of each journey. Each calls forth from the traveler a testing of self-reliance, survival skills, and ability to encounter and communicate successfully with people the individual might never otherwise meet. It calls for simplification of his own personal needs.

Diocesan seminaries now are providing their young seminarians with experiences which differ greatly from those of previous years. I have two cousins, each ordained a long time ago.  One is deceased: the other is living in a parish in Chicago. Both spent most, if not all, of their formation  away from the outside world in a more or less cloistered existence. They had limited time with their families, and during their college and post college training they lived on seminary grounds and socialized mainly with their fellows in the seminary.  The younger one actually entered during his high school years and spent time in a preparatory seminary as well.  Their education was superb. They both were successful and respected priests, but their practical experiences of parish life were learned “on the job.”

A young cousin of mine recently entered the seminary after completion of his college and post college education, and a successful career in business.  His experience as a seminarian will be very different than those of his two uncles.  He will study hard in the seminary but he will live in a parish through the entire years of his formation seeing and participating in the everyday workings of  parish life.  His encounters with family and friends, when and if there is time, will be less limited, and he will be prepared in a more practical way for issues he will encounter as a parish priest, and for his position in the society in which he must live and work. He will still be expected to perform  demanding, and hopefully fruitful, services. The work of a parish priest is as varied as the work of any father of a very large family, an executive in a medium size business, and as a psychologist/spiritual director for his flock, all rolled into one. He is expected to have business skills to oversee management of  parish funds, parish employees, provide spiritual services and counseling to parishioners from the cradle to the grave.  He is responsible for the management of the parish school and education of the parish children. And we need so many more of them. Today very few parish priests have assistant priests and none of them have housekeepers as they once did. Thankfully, leaders in the church are realizing that providing all priests with preparation for daily parish life in the day to day world is a necessity.  Ignatius Loyola, in his long journey from womanizer and soldier of fortune, to Saint and Founder of the Jesuit order can offer all of us much to learn about formation for parish life.   MMD

The People of Joy! – A Parishioner Reflection

I was rushing to Mass this morning and I looked up to see a couple coming toward me. The woman greeted me smilingly, wished me a great day, and it was! We all encounter people in our lives who seem to ooze joy!  No matter the weather . . . whatever the circumstance, the day is good. They are young and old, well and sick, rich and poor. They look you in the eye, greet you with a kind word and a smile. Seeing one of them makes the day a little better.  Some are disabled, coping with illness or financial reverses, or personal losses, yet they are serene. Some, like the lady of this morning, are total strangers.

I have been lucky enough to encounter many . . . One, now deceased, fought macular degeneration, and eventually total blindness along with other health problems . . . her sense of humor and her joy never wavered. No complaints, always concerned for someone else. A fine musician who can no longer play the piano or use a once-beautiful voice,  still lights up the room wherever she goes. Another has lived the last 25 years in a wheel chair, and participates enthusiastically in every new adventure! Another friend, a nurse, brings to her patients a joyful laugh and encouraging words.  I have never seen her without a smile and a lilt in her voice.

A law school classmate comes to mind. In the mornings he stood outside the school door laughing, joking, cheering us on day after day. He, with his wife reared a large family, shared with them adventure and travel. He managed a successful career into old age. Now, after a near death experience, he lives a different life. The humor is still there, the welcoming smile and words of encouragement for everyone he encounters. A professor who never lost the stutter he suffered as a child, who brought to the classroom a philosophy of life that still, after all these years, stays with his many former students. I know a young man just embarking on an amazing career. When he was in grade school, his parents wondered what would ever become of him, what he might do with his life. He completed his college career, obtained a graduate degree and remains the happy smiling child he was.  None of these people have had easy lives. They know the same fears, sell-doubts, losses we all do. I think that they hear the ‘still small voice” even on the darkest days, and they trust.  MMD 

 

 

Trusting the Tapestry

mariamore

I’d not given the story of Abram much thought until recently.  God instructed Abram to look up to the sky, and as many stars as he saw would be his descendants.  Easy enough.  There in the desert sky, with no light pollution, would be hundreds of stars, thousands maybe. How comforting to Abram.  How easy for him to believe.  God Almighty is talking to him directly and it seems this is a regular occurrence.  This conversation is not the first.  I feel like I am listening to two good friends discussing meaningful things over coffee at the table next to me.

I’m a little jealous.  Why isn’t it that easy for me?  I pray to know God’s will and for the courage to do it.  I remind him that I’m not very quick about it and ask him to be very clear.  Talk to me like I’m four, I say. …

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Angels In Our Lives – A Parishioner Reflection

God communicates with us in many ways.  We are not always listening, but when we listen we are overwhelmed by His loving generosity.  Throughout the Bible there are recurring stories of the messages He provided to our forefathers.  The Bible records the appearances to Moses of an angel believed to be Uriah, as Moses struggled to lead his unruly followers to the promised land.  The Bible also recounts the visit of three strangers to Abraham and Sarah.  They invited them in and shared their hospitality. As the three strangers departed, they promised that a child would be born to the elderly, childless Sarah, before the passage of a year’s time.  Both Abraham and Sarah laughed, unbelieving!  The child, Isaac, was born as promised and became the father of countless descendents.  The book of Daniel tells of the visit of an angel to Daniel and how it changed Daniel’s life.

The Book of Tobit, living at the time in Nineveh, relates the story of his accidental blindness, the desolation it caused him, and his desire for death.  In far off Media, Sarah was also in despair.  Seven husbands had perished before a marriage could be consummated.  Tobit, expecting death, wanted to send his son, Tobias, to Media to retrieve funds left for safe keeping with a trusted relative, but was fearful for his son’s safety.  The angel Raphael appeared and journeyed with the young man.  The funds were retrieved, Sarah and Tobias were brought together, and traveled to Nineveh.  The parents were overjoyed.  Through the use of a compound miraculously provided by Raphael, Tobias was able to heal his father’s eyes, and Tobit’s eye sight was restored.

The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary as she knelt in prayer.  He promised she would be the Mother of a Miraculous Child.  Mary responded, puzzled, “How can this be as I do not know Man”, and then “Be it done unto me according to His Word.”  God also sends angels to us.  A number of years ago, when all my children were still home, I was working full time at my profession, trying the balancing act of a middle aged parent – the “sandwich generation,” – caught between  needs of my husband and children, my ill mother, a handicapped sibling, and my work  My angel came to my house to assist with the mountains of wash that were part of every day, but she brought me so much more.  She had a simple way of pointing out the importance of balance, recognition of our own limitations, and trust in the God of the universe.  Her faith and trust in God in her own difficult life, gave me the courage and the insight to work through those rocky times.  MMD.

Redeeming the Lost – St. John Bosco

Recent violent attacks in our country and around the world by young people who appear to be of normal or even superior intelligence, and the attraction this behavior holds for other troubled young people is mind-boggling to us all.   As more information becomes available,  a profile emerges of the individual perpetrator:  lacking in ability to connect with other human beings, and without compassion or empathy.  Feelings of anger, resentment, paranoia, frustration, and hopelessness, and sometimes plain boredom or a desire to be noticed, characterize these unfortunate individuals. Their own human potential is lost forever when they act on their feelings, and under the influence of bad actors who are only too happy to make use of them.  Their impulsive and irrational actions result in loss of  lives and property of innocent individuals around the world.

John Bosco, a seminarian born in 1815 in a small village in the Piedmont district of northern Italy, in a  time of great poverty, turmoil and general lawlessness, found a way to reach such individuals.  The Industrial Revolution was in process with all the good and bad results that any major cultural change brings about. The circumstances of the present time brought on by the digital age, the appearance of robots, the changing and closing of businesses and professions, the proliferation of internet and social media communications have brought great technological advances, but have  impacted our lives in ways both positive and negative.  Not every individual is prepared to survive such dramatic change.

John Bosco observed the lives of the young people with whom he came in contact and was shocked by the conditions in which they lived, the activities they engaged in just to make a living, and eat, their lack of hope.  He visited them in prisons and wondered at how otherwise, healthy youngsters, 12 to 18 in age, could be condemned to such sad lives.  He vowed to find a way to make life better for them.  He began spending time with them, teaching them catechism, supervising their games and activities, giving them new ideas, and winning their trust.  He vowed as a priest to find a better life for them.

After Ordination, he was first assigned to work in an orphanage. When he discovered that the children who lived in the orphanage could not even play outside on the grounds, he resigned.  He commenced searching  for a home for his “boys”.  He learned they were not welcome in “respectable neighborhoods” but soon found a house in another part of town.  He moved the boys in and established the first oratory.  The numbers grew.  By 1849 there were three oratories in various parts of the city.  He had been planning for some time to start a religious foundation but was opposed by influential persons in the city.  Nevertheless, in 1858, with the help and support of Pope Pius IX, he was successful and completed the rule for his new community, the Society of Saint Francis de Sales, less formally known as the Salesians.  Four years later he founded a congregation for women, the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, to care for abandoned girls.  Still not satisfied that there was enough help available to meet the need, he recruited and organized lay volunteers to supplement the work of both foundations.  He was an indefatigable fund raiser for his “children.” He traveled Europe seeking funds to build a new church in Rome.  If someone complimented his accomplishments he replied: “It is Our Lady who has done everything.”  He died on January 31, 1888, exhausted at the age of 73.  He was canonized in 1934.  His work continues in a thousand monasteries throughout the world. He did everything with trust and love.

How can we respond to the turmoil and division abroad in our world?  What can we do individually and collectively to save young people from decisions which destroy life?  Are there individuals and organizations who are making a difference in the lives of disaffected youth?  So often we give up in frustration believing that as individuals we can do nothing.  But we know in our hearts that no individual effort is ever lost. Love and trust can make all the difference.  We can pray.  The Holy Spirit will guide us if we ask.  MMD