Half-past 2020

                                                           Sunrise or Sunset?                                                            photo by Diane Wright

There is a season for every purpose under heaven.

Who made seasons?

Who made the heavens?

These questions, asked in reason, are answered in faith.

These questions, asked in faith, are answered in reason.

Inseparable are faith and reason.

Only the Author of Light--God Almighty and Word Incarnate--holds the fullness of infinity. Mere man simply cannot fathom this immenseness.

Look all around you

Creation, imperceptible to us, came about through the Almighty’s wisdom and for his good pleasure. Everything natural you see (and all things you cannot see with mankind’s naked eye nor with latest technology), God has put in place and with purpose. He is the generator of all creation!

Only He knows all things. He knows them intimately: He knows all. He sees all. Only the God-and-Father of All Creation possesses this wisdom and power, and He brings it forth perfectly.

Lastly, the Father created man made in his own image (one body with many members) and likeness (eyes to see, ears to hear, mind to think, heart to feel, hands to do good, etc.)

The capacity for his creatures to absorb his light through eyesight proceeds to our perceptive brains situated immediately behind our eyes. The human race He made above all other living things, gracing man and woman with intellect, from where his gift of free will resides: our minds.

Is this not amazing?

Divine is his dominion. He, in the fullness of his divinity, is therefore King in his Kingdom.

Look all around you! Has the Father not provided the daylight and your pair of eyes to see his wonders? Rather than finding your own (finite) explanation, can you see all the more fathomable similes and metaphors that He generated in nature, and how each and everything intertwines, taking part in his perfection?

But why might we be afraid to take this in faith?

May 20/20 be the year of clarity and focus, and may we not dwell in fear but walk with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ toward his Light and Love.

They say the eye is the window to the soul. Although I have not studied the eye to know all the science of sight, I’ve been struck recently with an eye disorder (dystrophy) and so I give much thought about eyes and have prayed for the restoration of my eyesight ‘so that I may see better.’

The new year’s resolution to start witnessing my faith through writing coincided with my prayer and petition for my vision in this year, 2020. I’d like to touch upon some interesting correlations…

Visual Perception

Visual Perception, by definition, is the ability to interpret the surrounding environment using light.

The eyes are spherical. Also, they are paired but separated horizontally above the nose. Being round, paired and centered, they form a prism--a transparent body that is bounded in part by two nonparallel plane faces and is used to refract or disperse a beam of light.

Because our eyes are formed spherically, we can see the convex of our eyes, which is curved and rounded outward. Think of the electromagnetic spectrum (visible light) that passes through our prisms.

On the reverse side, the side we cannot see, our eyes are concave--hollowed, rounded inward, completing the processing of light. How truly marvelous, these inseparable light receptors have been created.

My own visual affliction, I am told, is called “Map Dot Fingerprint Dystrophy.” Seen through an ophthalmologist’s tool, ridges like fingerprints or sometimes deeper like the rugged terrain of a topographical map, are detected in the cornea (convex). This affects the light coming through the prisms.

And while many people might eventually get this as they age, it typically forms on the periphery of one eye and poses little problem. Mine, however, are in both eyes, but one eye in particular has formed those ridges right across the middle of my eye. The treatment? Scraping of the eyeballs, something I was pursuing at the time at onset of the virus lockdown. Something I was dreading, for sure!

However, back to marveling the design of our eyes. This aspect beckons a noteworthy revelation in the spiritual realm. Not only is the eye the window to our soul (concave), but beauty is in the eye of the beholder (convex).

I have gratitude to God that I still have my sight. Light is a gift. We can disperse that light by receiving it into our souls, feeding the recesses of our spirit. For me, my free will chooses to receive this light because the Source is good and I want God’s goodness for my spirit and soul.

The alternate choice, by choice of free will that God has bestowed to us for his righteous glory, is for us to refract the Light. Refracting (rejecting) the Almighty Light is to deflect, to distort, to bend.

St. Matthew, divinely inspired, writes: “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. If the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”

Dear brothers and sisters, how is your light prism? Now is the time to assess your vision. As they say, hindsight is 20/20. It is now half-past 2020. Now is the time.

Wishing you great Light for your path. Open your eyes, your ears, your arms up to your Creator. Be the receptacle of Light into your heart today.

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Animal Behaviors

Back to the animal kingdom I go, one final time!

In earlier heart-to-hearts, I shared my pet “profiles” with you: Phoebe, the 20-year old cat, Pepi, the 7-year old chihuahua mix, and Rusty, my shepherd who lived to be 6 years old.

Aren’t pets wonderful? I’m sure if you have a pet or two, you take the bad with the good and enjoy them immensely, as do I.

There’s just one more session I want to bring out in my observations of these three, and other animals, characteristics worth noting.

TRUST. Because Phoebe came from a homeless litter, she inherited her mother’s deep sense of fear and anxiety as she raised her litter among strangers in a strange home. Phoebe, to this day, does not like to be picked up or held against her will. She will trust conditionally--with her feet on the ground. It took a long time to willingly jump onto my lap.

TRAINING. The aussie breeder gave us some advice as we left with little Rusty. “There are no bad dogs, only bad owners.”

Think about that. She said this when we commented that we hoped Rusty would be as friendly and gentle as the aussie parents we saw on site. The woman went on to stress showing good behavior, rewarding good behavior, and the importance of obedience in commands by showing affection for a job well done. She told us the rest would fall into place. She was right.

So we brought little Rusty home. A younger Phoebe had gotten used to being the sole pet and it took awhile for her to stay in the same room as the rest of us. She would hiss and beat Rusty’s snout like a punching bag with her white paws, but he took it in stride. Eventually, they both calmed down and kept a respectable social distance for harmony’s sake. You could say trust was hard earned.

PROTECTION. The highly entertaining introduction of tiny Pepi to big Rusty that first day went better than we thought. Rusty sized up the tiny canine and tried to play with him in a gentle fashion. Thank goodness Pepi had a good role model of our aussie; otherwise, Pepi might have been a sissy-dog. When Pepi and Rusty were together, I sensed that Pepi became quite confident and fearless because of Rusty’s brotherly care.

They made a good team together, actually. Poor Phoebe--she always seemed to get herded to the outskirts of the rooms as Rusty made sure his little buddy wouldn’t be bothered by her!

Rusty once rushed into a rowdy ruckus with the neighbor’s German Shepherd, as the German Shepherd zipped out of nowhere, straight over to Pepi in our woods. Great protector, our shepherd…

STANDING GROUND. So then, when one or the other little pet joined me on the sofa, the other would also want the real estate of my lap, but the first one would stand his-or-her ground no matter how much the other was nosing into the space.

JEALOUSY. Now that Pepi doesn’t have his big brother, he wants me all to himself. If he sees Phoebe trying to join me, he may beat her to it and stand his ground.

COMFORTING. That could be due to the afore-mentioned jealousy. Does the wee one need to be petted and sweet-talked? Luckily, I have one stroking hand for each of them, simultaneously, on or near me.

TOLERANCE. How does it happen that animals of different species, who are thought of as enemies by nature, manage to get along? They don’t have a heart and soul like we humans do, yet by instinct they don’t want trouble and they condition themselves into peaceable coexistence.

Animals have emotions: happy, sad, scared. You can see it in their tails. I call tails Emotion Indicators. People have eyebrows: pets have tails. Animals also can sense things: hunger or fullness, heat or cold, hormonal attraction or threat.

Wild animals commonly coexist with an absence of malice. As carnivores hunt, they will even make their deadly catch as quick as possible. Animals in the food chain accomplish, through God-given instinct, what they need to survive with minimal disturbance in their environment.

But back to peaceful cohabitation. Lesser creatures tolerate sharing habitat environments with other species, using their abilities of standing ground or acquiescing space to others. Only rabid animals go about frothing at the mouth, acting out undue aggression in the natural order of the animal kingdom.

Can’t we human beings, created in the image of God, learn how to do better than that?

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Meet My Dad

An old adage, “if you want to know what kind of husband he will be, look at how he treats his mother,” comes to mind this Father’s Day as I reflect on the 79 years my dad spent here on earth.

Of course I knew him first and foremost as a father, but it is easy to look back and see the steadfast actions and admirable values that he modeled for his family, those qualities spilling over from his upbringing and early marriage far before I was just a twinkle in my parents’ eyes.

Born to immigrant parents just prior to the Great Depression, little Fred dwelled in an apartment building the family owned with two younger siblings and his parents. Only when he started first grade did he begin to learn English, and then he would come home and teach his household the language. His mother picked up on English just enough. But his craggy father never did, thus, the patriarch was a man of few words and found only odd jobs.

The language handicap must have been a challenge to little Freddie, but he rose to the occasion, interpreting, teaching and conducting family affairs as he also studied, played baseball and became an altar boy while growing up. His mother was sure to carry on the faith from her beloved Poland left behind as the Germans wreaked their hellish wargames over Europe.

Zofia, who became Sophie here, relied on little Fredju on so many levels. It is evident to me from all his interactions with my aged Babci that my dad was a consummate man of faith who honored his mother and father throughout life.

So Dad grew deeper in a spiritual realm than in academics. By the time he married my mother, I know he matured into a young man of honor, integrity, humility and service.

Everyone in town knew my dad, either from church or as a door-to-door salesman. He could set his own hours and possessed the discipline to work hard to earn for his family. Always, he rested or went visiting or recreated on Sundays after Mass. In the summertime, we’d climb into the beachwagon and go to our favorite swimming lake or to Boston, taking in a Red Sox game.

Quarter-annually, we would also drive the four hours to visit his sister who took in our widowed Babci. Dad brushed up on his Polish so that she could enjoy a good Polish conversation, bedside. Fredju was so considerate of her needs, and so many others’ needs, whatever they may be…

Many admired my father, but a few also misunderstood who he was or what he was all about. I think, to a degree, he sometimes felt distrusted or persecuted. I think devoted Christians experience the same thing, and maybe even more so today. This is unfortunate, but all must take up this cross.

What I mean by using the term ‘distrusted’ is that some in-laws found his simplistic approach to life as inadequate. This especially rang true during my mother’s manic-depressive swings. In hindsight, it was the mental illness itself that my father was blamed for, but I know he was the loving and patient resolution and not the cause!

And when I say he was ‘persecuted’, the prevalent cultural revolution overall between ‘hip’ and ‘square’ permeated even the most religious households, especially ours. My dad never waivered though, always living a devout (he prayed a lot!) and exemplary life.

Doesn’t that take awesome fortitude?

I can’t say that I ever saw Dad open a bible, but I know he always took to heart all the liturgical readings and gained this spiritual food for his strength.

So many of the bible verses I record in my journal speak to me. I later realized why: this is how my beloved father’s good character was formed, and inspires me as well.

I’ve titled these passages: Loving Jesus (Mt 10:37-38), Ways of the Lord (Hos 14:9), Practice Humility (Sir 3:17), The Golden Rule (Mt 7:12), Good Life (Jas 3:13,17). . . These reflect my dad as a loving son.

As a loving husband, the following passages I’ve entitled: Protection (Ps 25:20-21), Compassion (Col 3:12), Reflection of Heart (Prov 27:19), Unshakable Hope (Ps 62:5-6), A Woman’s Beauty (Sir 36:27-29). . .And I know in difficult times, an older brother heard him recite and repeat his wedding vows: “For better or worse, in sickness and in health. . .”

As a loving father: The Family (Deut 11:19), Wisdom Teaches (Sir 4:11-12), Childrearing ((Prov 23:13-14), Teaching (Prov 22:6), Discipline (Heb 12:11) . . . And he believed in corporal punishment! An authoritative but loving hand spanked our behinds, stunning us out of our stubborn pride to make us realize our transgression, and that misdeeds have consequences in equal measure.

A little humiliation is good for us when given out of love, not anger.

This past April, as I reflected on my dad around his birthday, an epiphany came to me. The humble man who was thought to be simplistic and sort of fuddy-duddy--a man who was man enough to stop and ask for directions or to ask great philosophical questions to godly intellectuals, enlightens me still to this day as I recall the advice he always liked to give us kids: “If you want to know something, inquire!”

Dad may not have been the most educated, but in his humble simplicity, dear old Dad--in actuality--was a gentle genius!

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A Good Shepherd

Rusty, a red merle Australian shepherd

One more pet story, if I may.

Somewhere between bringing Phoebe the cat and Pepi the dog into our home, the greatest pet joy came to us in early 2009.

For a few years my husband mourned the dog he lost to cancer. We were dogless and that was okay with me. Admittedly, I had always been just a cat lover and never liked all the responsibilities of dogs anyway.

It happened to be the day that Sully landed his plane on the Hudson, saving all lives on board, I felt ready to get a dog for my husband’s sake. I couldn’t believe I was actually doing this, and that we were going to get a shepherd, of all things!

Rusty, a red merle Australian Shepherd pup couldn’t have been any more soft and irresistible, with his blue eyes amid the fluffiest mantle of fur.

Our new “Aussie” as they are called, not only replaced a wiry dalmatian we’d had years before, but I had an ulterior motive for getting a dog this time. You see, we were experiencing a great sense of loss for a while. We needed some joy in our lives once again.

In a way, for me, getting this dog was replacing not a previous dog, but a previous child. (We lost our son through an estrangement that we couldn’t understand.) It was time to give love to a boy we could call our own--one who would love back and help to fill that awful hole in our hearts.

Never could I imagine that we would bring home and love any type of shepherd. I was never into German Shepherds (didn’t like big dogs) but in casual conversation, someone who had a minnie Aussie highly recommended them, but there were no minnies to be had at the time, so we settled for a standard Aussie. At least, Rusty started out as a small dog, right?

So Rusty grew up with Phoebe the kitty. Our home, once again, seemed to animate moments of happiness. We enjoyed our incredibly intelligent and loyal fur-child whose rambunctious energy overwhelmed us!

Aussies need regular exercise. Because we worked all week long, it was only on the weekends that we would hop in the car and go somewhere nice for a long walk. 

The Aussie and His Mistress

Those sky-blue eyes, intense, lock on mine;

He captures my attention and leads me

‘Round Dunn’s Pond and yonder pine.

Here, without leash, we are free.

 

Agile and gleeful, his Aussie gait,

Sure-footedness gracing  the trail.

He bolts for a moment, then stops to wait

For me…over the hill and down in the dale.

 

Despite sensory overload

My shepherd waits, ever watchful for me

To be sure that I indeed follow

Before resuming the joyful journey.

 

A thing of beauty, a beast of burden;

His fervent gaze, a pointed steeple.

Dutiful and instinctual is his herding

And I, his mistress, am his “sheeple.

Back in those days, I lived in what I call the Void. I call it that because I had not yet found my way back to my loving God. We were just winging life entirely on our own, and suffering loss after loss after loss. But having Rusty in our lives was like a lifeline, a savior of sorts.

Rusty amused us in many ways, like the way he always herded poor Phoebe in the house; the way he knew not to jump on the furniture when I was around, yet as I drove off to work, there he was, in the picture window (on the sofa with his elbows on the back of the sofa and just watching me drive by. I see you, Rusty!) How can I be upset when it makes me laugh?

I loved how he would put his front paw on one of us when he needed to express a need or a concern. And Aussies’ eyes can get so intense. They communicate their intelligence and instinct with eye to eye contact. Often, his stare would draw my attention even without a paw-tap. Those eyes..!

And somehow, Rusty led me on the road to recovery from my cancer. It was Rusty who inadvertently found the tumor in my body. It was Rusty who had been there throughout all the sorrow and uncertainty in my life.

When I think back on that period, I would say that my mind subconsciously recognized that I needed the Good Shepherd. Rusty, whose eyes bore into me, came into my heart and home as a harbinger to my soul. My Aussie’s loyal companionship brought me great joy, comfort and healing. 

Our shepherd came to us at such a critical time in our despondency and enriched our spirits more than any other pet we’ve ever had. His life on this earth was all too short, unfortunately. Epileptic seizures got the best of him, but I was there for him until the end…

Rusty lives on in my heart as someone who gave me unconditional loyalty and protection; a foreshadow of the greater shepherd of my soul--my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

And you, Dear Reader, do you know the voice of your good shepherd? Have you felt the calling of his intense and loving gaze upon you?

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Tenderoni

I’ll never forget the day my husband brought home a tiny creature by surprise. He came through the door holding the little thing in his hands and handed it right over to me.


I couldn’t tell if it was a kitten or a puppy, and he hadn’t consulted with me on bringing a third pet on board into our home.


The little creature had pointy ears like a cat, but it also had a tiny snout like a dog. “What IS it?” I asked, bemused.


“He’s a chihuahua mix.”


I just looked at my husband’s eyes and shook my head resignedly.


I had to admit he was a cute little thing, although I never felt inclined to have a second dog. And this little fella needed cradling. Who has time for such a needy, little baby at this stage of our lives?


Of course, the puppy belonged more to my husband than myself. We discussed how I would not be the primary dog-walker of the house, and he agreed. Oh, how I lacked patience for puppies.


At any rate, he sure was cute. I liked holding him after all, even as so many other tasks were waiting for me. So after about one hour, I asked, “So where’s his food?”


“Huh?”


That’s just great. I thought, not a maternal instinct in his body! How could you spring a puppy onto your wife and not even consider the poor little baby will need to eat soon?


Being only two pounds and having such a small mouth, no way could this six-week old eat the other dog’s big food. It was decided that I would have to make a run to the grocery store and find some puppy chow . . . and a bowl set . . . and a couple of toys . . . and maybe something to chew on...PUPPY PADS, too! Had he not thought of any of that, let alone my willingness?


While I was at the store, my husband introduced the pup to our cat and dog, which went as well as could be expected (a story for later). But you know what? The puppy chow was TOO BIG for the little guy! I had to use my small vegetable chopper to break it down, which eventually broke my chopper. I also picked up some small cans of dog food, and that was a success mixed in with the dry stuff.

So I was going to have to be a momma to this tiny, little tenderoni.


I do marvel how God makes all newborns so absolutely cute and irresistible. We gave him the name Pepi in an attempt to give a proper ethnic name for the puppy that was part Mexican and part rat terrier.


That was seven years ago. There’ve been a lot of “accidents” in the house, a lot of bundling Pepi up in winter sweaters, coats, and boots. While we are glad he doesn’t usually bark, we listen to his crying for every little thing!


Sometimes his crying is like squeaking. We have a difficult time sometimes deciphering his need-of-the-moment because it’s the same tone no matter what. The dissonance of his squeaking or squawking assimilates to  fingernails down a chalkboard!


We may think he’s got to go out, for instance. My husband or I may drop what we’re doing, bundle him up and carry him down the stairs for him to use the yard. Pepi still cries, though, if I am cooking supper. We’ve discovered he loves the smell of meat cooking.  But his cries are indiscernible whether he wants to fill up or empty out!


Pepi and me on a bench reading "Be still and know that I am God."


Mostly, Pepi is still a needy little boy. For sure, he is content when he lays on one of our laps. He would like nothing more than to be that way (or under the covers overnight) 24/7.


If I am busy about the house, he really does follow me around like a puppy dog (sometimes squeaking). He just wants me. Or he is still cold despite wearing an indoor sweater.


But for the most part, my little tenderoni yearns to be comforted. Pepi is middle-aged, yet by nature, he is just a baby in need of being held.


I think all of us, deep down, are that way too. Don’t you?

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Do This

It seems the previous 60 days or so have blended into each other, making one really long week. Without Sunday worship, we’ve lost our weekly rhythm, haven’t we?

I remember great joy when I first returned to Mass ten years ago. Joy in having God back in my life; joy of going to worship my Lord and partaking in the liturgy; joy of that weekly rhythm I once took for granted but now desired and needed!

And after just a few Sunday morning masses, I asked Father Joe if I could meet with him. From there, full confession and absolution made me whole again, fully able to come to the table of the Lord once again.

Receiving Jesus in the Holy Eucharist restored my soul. I recall stepping into the aisle in procession with all the other communicants. Anticipatory tears washed over me. Tears of peace. Tears of joy!

And now, my brothers and sisters in Christ, once again we are able to come to the table of the Lord to receive the body-blood-soul-divinity of our Lord, Jesus Christ, who paid for our sins and the sins of many by his life, death and resurrection. Have you, too, ventured back to your parish in the new normal?

Catholic Mass celebrates the salvific sacrifice of our Messiah. This is perhaps the largest differentiation of our Christian faith from others. This is why we have a priest at the altar rather than a preacher at the pulpit.

Because our Lord Jesus Christ instructed his apostles at his last supper, Do this in memory of me, the mass perpetually feeds us.

Do you know, first, that the ancient translation of Jesus’s command, ‘do this in memory of me’ more precisely means to offer the sacrifice of Jesus’s body and blood? Only priests can offer sacrifices, at which Jesus instructed his apostles to offer (do) the consecration of bread and wine, that Christ’s Church may perpetually remember his sacrificial crucifixion, death and resurrection as final sin offering.

Perpetuity of this ritual offered since the time of Jesus, continues in the Liturgy of the Mass, handed down by bishop ordination through the ages, that we do this in memory of our Redeemer. Just think about that for a moment!

To me, the holiness of this Catholic liturgical tradition remains so absolutely necessary. How else may we stay united in Christ if not for the exhortation for reverence of his sacrificial love and redemption?

Jesus laid down his life for his friends. By this, he refers to all who believe that he is the Son of God who came to pay the ransom for our sins in such a way. I love Jesus as much more than just a friend. I think friendship sounds as though it lends itself to a casual relationship, and that’s where I see the reverence and holiness has waned in other denominations.

Let’s think of the term friend again. Let’s think of friendship in the context of Jesus’s demonstration of love as a verb and not as an emotion. A better translation here, is charity. Let’s remember an important scripture, So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12, NIV)

Jesus laid down his life for his friends. No more bringing grain and animal offerings to the temple for the high priests to offer up for one’s sins, as was the Jewish custom of the old covenant.

How earth-shattering and mind-boggling that had to have been for all the disciples and apostles! After Jesus’s ascension, the Holy Spirit’s gift of Pentecost emboldened the apostles to spread the great news of the New Covenant and carry out the partaking of the sacrificial victim thereafter.

Even in this lockdown by the great pandemic, bishops and priests have carried on with masses (sans parishioners) and the tradition has never stopped. Did you see the image of Celebrant Pope Francis standing alone in his cavernous surroundings on Easter Sunday? Virtual celebration makes good substitution for spiritual communion; however, nothing restores the sacredness of the mass more than actual presence.

May your joy be complete in the presence of the Lord.

Glory Be to God - Alleluia!

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The Slowdown

Poor kitty. Going on age 20, Phoebe is old as dirt in the cat world.

Rickety in her walk and klutzy in her jumps, it’s almost getting too painful to watch my once graceful and acrobatic cat. She’s a true millennial, though. I did someone a favor back in 2000 when a friend of a friend of a friend had taken in a pregnant stray and needed homes for all the kittens.

I had just come fresh off the sudden death of Fester, our Maine coon mix who was the best cat ever, but he got hit by a car in the road right in front of our house. I knew instantly, after he didn’t come inside earlier that morning, when my husband looked out the front window and with sympathy uttered, “oh, Kathy…” what had happened.

So there I was a month later, getting first pick of a litter. I chose a black shorthair with white paws and chest. It happened to be a female but I had to have her, those green eyes quite vivid against her black backdrop. When she shut her eyes, it was as if her face could disappear altogether!

We brought home our butterball baby and named her Phoebe.

I’ve never had a pet live so long as she has. And that is why it’s so bittersweet to come to this stage. On one hand, she’s been my constant and faithful companion. She is a totally indoor cat (after what happened to Fester) and that has helped ensure her longevity.

What does this story have to do with anything, you might ask?

My creative and contemplative mind often looks at ‘lesser things’ (or in this case, ‘lesser creatures’) and I see apt metaphors in all things connected to life. And where there’s life, there is spirit--the whole amalgam of lessons to be gained by observation.

Believe it or not, I have learned many lessons from observing my pets! Today I will talk about Phoebe, but there will be more where this is coming from, to be sure.

First, I’d like to acknowledge how a geriatric cat has taught me patience. It’s funny how she and I have begun to grow old together. In my own earlier stages, however, I multitasked around the house and kept a fairly tight order of cleanliness and organization, even as busy as I was. 

Now, we’ve both slowed our pace, especially Phoebe. If I suddenly got up from the chair, for instance, she used to know to move swiftly out of my path. But now she doesn’t do that, and I must be more aware of her and be sure to avoid even her tail if she wags it on the floor beneath. And I wonder as I’m flying around, ‘why am I in such a rush, anyway?’ Habit. Impatience.

Second, she’s more needy of my attention and gentle touch. ‘Our time’ is my first few moments in the morning when I sit in a plush chair with my coffee. Phoebe can still jump up into my lap. But now, instead of just laying on my lap, she strokes my cup-hand with her head, and I must put down my Bible or journal to stroke her, murmur to her and wipe her weepy eyes.

When someone needs our attention, put away the multitasking!

My estimation of her relative age to humans is now over 100 years old. My Phoebe-be-be grows more fragile and feeble, and it’s often hard to watch her land from a small jump. Family asks ‘when will you put her down’ every so often. Not yet, not yet!

She still eats and in fact seems to be digesting her food a little better lately. She still makes eye contact with me. She still climbs up around my neck and nests there when I am horizontal on the sofa in the evening, her purrs buzzing right on my ear!

What I am learning the most is compassion, not mere tolerance. My old pet requires more maintenance, but that is okay for this season that will pass. Right now, she still needs me. More than ever. I will not abandon her.

Nor should we abandon one another, just as God does not abandon us!

_____________

Mystical Rose

Pope John Paul II once wrote that Mary is the spokeswoman of her Son’s will. Marian devotion baffles those outside the Catholic church. Why is this so, that someone so pure as the Mother of God entertains controversy?

Early in life, my husband fell into this protestant consensus too, and I have to admit that in the seven years of my attending a Baptist church, even I had inadvertently stripped down layers of the mystical rose, the Mother of our LORD…

But then, an invitation to become consecrated to Mary in a parish-offered retreat, 33 Days to Morning Glory, came to me several years ago.

I remember signing up for this particular retreat carried with it some reluctance on my part. I wasn’t sure how I felt about participating. But then again, that was exactly why I signed up for it (about three years after returning to the Church).

. . . So this 33-day retreat highlights much of Mary’s true purpose, graces, virtues and strength. Insightful examination by four saints known for their devotion  

to Mary: Mother Teresa, Maxamilian Kolbe, Louis de Montfort and Pope John Paul II--sheds light on her quiet power and role as Mother of God.

Some of what I learned from the nuns so very long ago in parochial school flooded back to me, reaffirming the lessons I was receiving in this retreat. I was soon reminded of many accounts of Mary, that she pondered these things in her heart . . .

I love the very word and concept of PONDER, and that got me to ponder her. There is absolutely no one else who ever lived that matches Mary’s special favor and graces. And no one else could have ever been entrusted to become the arc of God’s New Covenant. How mystical, how awesome, how eternally pure.

. . . How powerful, this humble, obedient servant of the LORD. Mary personifies all life-bearing, life-affirming, maternal love. Have we forgotten what it is to know what pure love is and what pure love does?

True love inspires us to affirm life. With no greater context than familial living, Mary exemplifies cooperation with God’s will completely. Her heart unites in such a sacred way with her son, Jesus, who evidences so well how our hearts are to be!

Obedience. Humility. A host of other virtues...these are examples of love for God that we are to make every effort to emulate. It is one thing to read about various virtues, but it is another thing entirely to live out these virtues that produce the fruit that God desires. I found this study very useful for personal and spiritual development.

True, Mary is fully human and not a portion in the Trinity of God; however, she unites intimately to all Three persons in such a favored and supernatural way with the Blessed Trinity.

It was Mary who queued her son Jesus at just the right time, initiating his ministry and mission. Remember the wedding at Cana? Mary’s graciousness prompted Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine.

Importance of Mary’s role throughout her life on earth may be quite subtle in recorded scripture, and we can only imagine the oral tradition once the Apostle John took Mary into his home. Naturally, the New Testament accounts the work of our Savior, but she too supports Jesus from the moment of his special conception--to the Cross--and into eternity: from the gospels--to John’s book of revelation.

The retreat (book, DVD and group discussion) focused on the Virgin Mary’s intercessory power because of her special union with the Holy Spirit. The centuries-old holy rosary remains a powerful prayer in which we may rely on Mary’s intercession for the suffering and ills of the world.

In my exploration of Mary’s life, love and will, I discovered a stealth and splendor of the mystical rose, our Queen of All Saints. Devotion to her is sweet as nectar to a honey bee. The everbloom of her soft and supple virtues come to my aid, enriching all aspects of my life: marriage, family, community.

It all starts by praying. Mother Mary advocates--for you and me--to Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit when we petition in our faith and conviction.

_____________

Today’s Mothers

Most deservedly, this Mother’s Day calls for thunderous applause for all those raising children as pandemic sweeps across the globe.

Some of us are living out childrearing struggles firsthand. I see it all around me in the news, social media, my own neighborhood, and of course, my own children with their young families.

Just when you think you’ve found your groove in the balance of work and home and family, the entire world has halted and turned itself upside down. Not only must you now change course in your work-a-day or your financial management, there is now the much larger realm of being there for your little ones on every level, 24/7.

 And sometimes it doesn’t feel possible! With absolutely no time to have put a workable plan into place, as you did when you had nine months to prepare for your newborn baby, you are now juggling their academics and every need throughout these days in your new reality.


Oh, how delicate in trying to explain to the really young ones what all of this is about! On a dime, their daily routines have changed. And how can they truly comprehend why they must discontinue daycare or school?

 So, parents do what parents must. Because there is no alternative. Because all areas of their lives vie for motherly attention. Regardless, you likely fall in one of two camps. Either you are fortunate that you still have a job to go to (God bless essential workers) but risk exposure, or you have been designated to work out of your home.

No matter which, your children are not in their usual places--it all falls on you, in your home. Surely, you must have wondered if all of this is plausible. Hopefully, you have prayed for help! Hopefully, you have a spouse upon which to lean, facilitating a greater degree of teamwork.

Dear Reader, I hope you know that many people of faith have been praying for you and continue to pray for you and your families. No one else, neither your parents nor your grandparents, have experienced such a full plate as you have been served. I think I can speak on behalf of the older generations: your honor is certainly most deserved in this strange new reality.

All we older folks can do is to pray because we’re unable to come to your aid physically. We may or may not have adequate advice to offer because we haven’t ever contended with this exact situation.

But please know the power of our prayers. Prayerfully, we offer your challenges and worries, your doubts and your needs up to Almighty God, and His angels and saints.

I pray that you may gain the wisdom and strength you need to persevere through this difficult time. I pray to keep you and your family safe from the virus. I pray that you receive enough income to maintain your household. And I pray for the emotional wellbeing of your families.

I am heartened to see all the amazing things families are finding to do. Many get creative and find a way to be part of the solution. Involving the children (or maybe the kids themselves have their very own ideas) is a beautiful thing to see. Discovering one’s instinct for goodwill shines through, especially through the worst of times. What a wonderful lesson.

Mothers and/or fathers are going for neighborhood walks together, or riding bicycles to get out for fresh air and exercise and might not have been very important on the list to do, but ranks near the top now that Spring has sprung. Has this been a great chance for good talks along the way?

Kids are learning how to get along better, even if it seems they still bicker a lot. Patience is required, and if any lack patience, this is an opportunity to practice it and gain patience necessary for many other aspects of life. Not a bad thing, indeed. I know patience is what I pray for all of us at this time.

Virtual education has its place. The bigger challenge, I suspect, is the limiting of virtual entertainment. These are your children’s formative years so be sure your children use moderation because nothing is more satisfying than person-to-person relationships.

Seeing a loved one’s eyes, cherishing those eyes hopefully forms the greatest lesson out of all of this when we come out of shelters in place.

Less looking down at screens, more looking into one another’s souls through their eyes. That, we should realize, is the best way of connection.

A reunion of extended family and close friends with real, live hugs, I imagine, will be so very, very sweet. Something we should forever cherish.

From generation to generation, families look to mothers for so many things: nourishment, instruction, caring for physical needs, nurturing, and so on and so on. And for so many moms who also earn a living outside the family and home, a special inner strength emerges from today’s mothers coordinating the whole kit-and-caboodle.

A great deal of love and grace round out the twenty-first century mother. Husbands and children: take note!

Happy Mother’s Day to my lovely daughter and daughter-in-law--your efforts are to be praised and appreciated now and every single day. Keep up the great work that you were born to do.

And to all of you, dear Sisters in Christ, I wish bountiful blessings and Happy Mother’s Day to you as well. God bless you~

_____________

Courage

I stepped into a church

I passed along the way,

Well, I got down on my knees,

And I began to pray . . .

Weeks have passed. Oh, how I’ve missed Mass…

Don’t it always seem to go

That you don’t know what you’ve got

Til it’s gone…

Maybe, just maybe, it’s possible that we’ve paved paradise and put up a parking lot!

If you are like me, you may be sentimental about all the good things about your past. Nostalgia sometimes seeps into my mind and lingers there. Isn’t it funny how an old song enters your brain for awhile, even if you haven’t recently heard the tune?

It’s true, in that era I was blissfully ignorant of all the malevolence in the world. But I think the Mamas and the Papas and Joni Mitchell were on to something.

Back then, for me, the melodies of music stood out more than voice. But the lyrics. They cry from the soul.

Many lyrics of old still resonate today. Injustice of any sort often sparks musicians and poets. Emotion from personal upheavals expatiate like tears from their hearts.

Expatiated emotion is but a momentary therapeutic release. It is merely a spewing of the soul and nothing more than a dead end. Yet popular culture seems to want to unite in the misery of others and leave it at that.

On the contrary, when Jesus ministered on earth, he stirred up crowds everywhere he went. Often, thousands at a time clamoured to be in his presence. Why was that?

Our Lord came to walk among us because he loved us so much! All of our physical illness, mental anguish, personal hardships he walked right into, knowing that people need deliverance from the sufferings of sinful nature--not mere acknowledgement of the effects of disease of all kinds.

Disease decays. Stubbornness. . .pride. . .jealousy. . .anger. . .cause harm in every way! Do you not know he came to give you life?

What must we do to have life?

Let us not dwell in misery! Let us acknowledge within ourselves those things that cause decay physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and even financially. Truly examine. It is time to go below the surface of our misery because superficiality does not cure.

Because we have an omniscient God who knows all our nuances that are not hidden to him, the first petition of prayer should be to open our eyes to our own shortcomings. Better yet, we should petition for courage--the courage to have our eyes opened in order to see below our own surface.

Courage need not be elusive. A great irony when you think about it is the fear of asking for courage. What are your fears, dear brothers and sisters?

There is absolutely not one sin you could confess that God, in his infinite mercy and grace, will not forgive. Not one!  Have faith.

What, then, might be the cause of lingering apprehension?

Denial, lack of contrition, fear of change in lifestyle or what others may think of you? Deep stuff. With certainty, these unspeakable causes couldn’t be more uncomfortable...cause for uneasiness…’dis-ease.’

My friends, enlightenment from the Holy Spirit reveals to me that disease is the outer sign of sin. You know diseases’ manifestations--those unspeakable things that weigh you down but come on so subtly and affect your inner wellbeing both physically and mentally and that simply become a part of you--has somehow attached itself to you.

Scary stuff? Yes. Dear reader, do you avoid family, friends or philosophies that may bring light onto truths hidden even to you in your own recesses?

Here comes the question, point-blank. 

What is to be gained by self-preservation of afflictions of disease?

I’m not here to preach. I write to testify because I was once the apprehensive person, the one afflicted by sorrow. Suffering. Depression. . . Cancer. The one who got down on her knees and wailed to God one final afternoon…

But do not pity me--the good news is that, while I tearily dropped to my knees in my living room in front of the picture window, I looked upward and I poured my heart out to God. In my sobbing mess, I suddenly remembered the strength of a Holy Spirit (the very one working with me for some time).

And then I recalled the absolute power of the Blessed Trinity.  As I looked toward heaven and raised my arms as if to receive the entire Trinity into my body and soul, I called out to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit…

My God heard me. He has heard all my cries and pleas! His Holy Spirit, I realized, aided me all along as I finally abandoned my pride, opened my eyes and focused on the heavenly host!

I knelt like that for I don’t know how long, but miraculous peace washed over me like a gentle breeze. I exhaled. My tears dried up and the answer to my incessant plea over the years took its first step with such definity.

That is what I wish for all of you who are suffering in one way or another. I know, from being one of them, that I have brothers and sisters who abandoned their faith (their Catholic roots especially). They may not know how they got to where they are right now, but they know they ventured out on their own and did not find happiness like they thought they would.

Why would I not share my success story? I can barely contain it! And I wish and pray the same for all those who suffer. God is good!

As St. Paul writes in the Book of Romans: We also rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, HOPE. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

May the grace and peace of God be with you.

_____________

The Larger Picture

my brothers and me

         1962, left • 1985, right        

My vacation finally arrived! The two days that I tacked on prior to the Patriot’s Day holiday weekend, planned a couple months ago, felt like medicine to my body, mind, and spirit. Nine months earlier was my last vacation and it seemed like forever ago . . .

Last July my husband and I rented a vacation home for a few days in the White Mountains. We saw the sights and did fun things when our daughter’s family joined us there. Getting away like that felt great amid the rigors of book publication. However, upon returning to reality, two stressful situations occurred by August. Ugh!

So this time, my staycation, as planned, involved many overdue spring cleanings of my modest abode. Somehow, removing the cobwebs and clutter restored the peace for which I had been pining.

By Saturday afternoon, while a gentle snowshower continued from the night before, I lit the pellet stove in the living room and brought out a large plastic tub of generations-old family photographs to sort and whittle down.

I thought to do that because the photo I posted earlier of my brothers and me (see My Brother Steve, below) had a corresponding photo that I wished I could have found to post at the same time. You see, the reason why we giddy adults posed so clustered together is a funny story.

While celebrating Christmas one year, I sat in my parents’ living room and looked at a portrait of us five kids from when I was a toddler. I made a comment about it, and my sister-in-law said, “Hey, let’s do a remake of that picture!” She, a hobbyist photographer, had her camera on hand and we were game.

She knew what to do. “Move the coffee table to the fireplace. Kathy, sit in the middle.” All the while, that old portrait hung on the opposite wall where we could see our former positioning.

I didn’t think all five of us could fit onto that pine coffee table. Boy, it was cramped, but then again, the earlier photo had us snuggled together anyway. “This table’s gonna collapse!” I said as the adult tonnage grew.  And then she directed us to pose our arms the same way as the first portrait.

Posing for that photo was a riot, and it showed on our faces. It was just a lark. But when I found that 8 X 10 for my recent tribute to Steve, warm memories of simpler times flooded me. How social my brother Steve looked there. Seeing Steve all tanned and healthy, uninhibited and happy comforted me--yet spiralled my mind back to all that has happened to everyone since…

But you know what? I wouldn’t trade those younger years for anything in the world. Why? Taking to heart all that my Lord desires of me (moving forward and growing spiritually), there is no other way I would have accepted trials that lead gracefully to virtues necessary in this life, And wisdom gained cannot possibly reside in the novelty of youth.

Aging is a blessing. As we take on the roles of spouses and parents with the greatest of care over a lifetime, such maturity is worthy of respect.

Our Creator showed us the way to a benevolent society that gives honor to the older generations and those in authority, commanding us to ‘Honor your father and mother.’ Honor is to be given and respect is to be earned. How blessed it is to give or possess both of these qualities.

 A life born into the world soon enough finds its way to the fast lane, doesn’t it? Maybe that causes premature aging. Speaking for myself, I know I am slowing down, and that is okay. Having just spent five days off the ‘merry-go-round’ of the daily grind reveals to me that everything I consider  important is best done at my own pace.

 . . . And important things in this life, I am learning, are dependent upon doing, not acquiring

It shows in all those black-and-white images sprawled all over my sofa and coffee table last Saturday, as the unseasonable snow wafted outside my window: Special occasions of people and places...the smiles on their faces..loving embraces. 

I’ve seen many of these photos in the past but I treasure them more now. So many of those relatives have passed. The rest of us grew up and are now aging ourselves.

And those decades were simpler times. Long before smartphones and the internet, before dual incomes, bigger houses and multiple autos, before microwaves and fast-food, shopping malls and TV sports and other programming--what did our parents and their parents have?

It is true that some of those things mentioned above are beneficial in and of themselves--but what have we done with all this convenience of time?

Could it be we’ve become enslaved in supporting an excessive lifestyle, rather than spending time for the sake of quality familial and neighborly relationships?

If you are like me, questions have been forming in the cobweb corners of my mind these past few weeks. Has the human intellect, by way of technology, connected better with family and friends and for the good of community? Or did we somehow get distracted with all different avenues of entertainment to the point that it consumes the intellect and serves only ourselves?

And what happens when we live for self? Is there no room, no need for God? We need only to look at the quality of all our interpersonal relationships with one another to find the answer.

So, brothers and sisters, when the body slows down and the mind allows for interior reflection and communing with God--the pieces of the great jigsaw puzzle of existence, the larger picture, begins to form.

Reach out today. Love one another today and always.

I believe the gift of life is precious, from conception to natural death, and that a spiritual life well lived is the greatest blessing--short of the glories of heaven one day . . . 

_____________

Mixed Blessings

I love my sweet Nikolas. I miss my little grandson who lives seventy miles away.

He dialed me up the other day. Not quite four years old! Well, my daughter dialed my number, then put him on the phone.

Ha-ha! I knew what was happening right away . . .

I know, because she had already called me for a chat earlier in the day. But now it was around 6 p.m.--too early to put Nik to bed. Oh, she was beside herself with such an energetic, inquisitive child, and she didn’t know what else to do!

First off, Nik’s grandpa answered the phone. I knew to whom he was talking just by listening to the simple conversation. Within a minute, Grandpa asked Nik if he wanted to talk to Grandma, and he promptly handed me the cordless phone.

Hmm. Young Nik barely comprehends having a conversation into a device without video, and forming sentences is fairly new to him. So there we were, occupying time and giving Nik’s mom a break, while she simultaneously tries to break him away from the TV or the tablet to which he’s recently gotten accustomed.

Those who know my daughter see her as a positive person, always finding inspiration to share on social media. That’s her nature. She is a personal fitness trainer who also waitresses at a country club during golf season. All that has now changed under the circumstances everyone faces.

Fortunately, she has embraced technology and holds conference videos to conduct personal training with her diehard clients. And boldly she embarked upon offering video sessions for zumba (as a recently certified instructor). Good for her--she knows the homebound population needs something good to do, something fun to do, something productive to do...And as she does so, her husband is holed up in an upstairs room, working his state job at the old desktop computer, and trying to keep Nik entertained on the suddenly valuable tablet as daddy works.

Oh, that familiar new millennial routine!

We all have our crosses to bear. I love, though, how my daughter has adapted to a new, workable lifestyle and still manages to share very positive ideas and postings for all the internet-dwellers swelling the technological airwaves.

What I love the most is hearing how their lives have changed in strange, new ways. All of us can relate to this, am I right?

There is a new appreciation for more time spent as a family, walking around the neighborhood or doing things in the yard now that Spring has arrived. Less commute time actually decreases stress for the both of them.

They are spending less income because there is no out-go on sprees they once thought as necessary. And they know they have been blessed with having managed their money and household items well for that “rainy day” that descended upon them…

My own household does not mirror hers whatsoever, and I think to myself how glad I am that I’ve already raised my children and do not have that added challenge at this difficult time. Our daily living is a challenge nonetheless.

I can say with certainty that youth holds more of a capacity for patience. What I mean by this is that when a person or a married couple are in their twenties or thirties, they see the summoning challenge at their door and through the eyes of an adventure into the unknown, they rise to the occasion by using all acquired wisdom to meet the trial and face the adversity.

God willing, they still have their whole lives ahead of them--they are on the up-curve. They aim to rise to the occasion and gain invaluable life experience--their physical and mental health, gratefully enjoyed by virtue of their relative youth…

Many people, including my daughter, remind me that I am one of the lucky ones. I know it is true: both my husband and I are considered “essential” and have a place to go every weekday, as usual. The paychecks remain intact. Yes, we count our blessings more than ever!

Along with those blessings, somehow I feel a sense of responsibility on a very different plane than ever before. While it is true that in the past, we have weathered several sudden layoffs (at least eight of them), and we managed them with prudence and self-restraint as well as leaning on the Lord, today feels much different.

I see all around me people who find themselves suddenly at home, getting stir-crazy and bored. However, they are becoming creative in all sorts of ways. I seem to be lacking any energy for creative ideas for the common good. I plod along every day, going to my job ,taking great care not to contaminate nor be contaminated, only to sit there with a much-reduced workload. Then I feel guilty for not filling all my time productively.

I wish to do more for my fellow citizens. My time and energy don’t seem to match my desire, though! So what is left? Certainly, my husband and I continue to promptly pay all our bills, as that helps in the business chain tremendously. The heavy sense to give alms and contribute to meaningful charities and services, plus sending in those weekly parish envelopes--we gladly do.

It’s the very least we can do. Oh, and it seems all the more urgent for me to continue speaking from the heart to you, especially in this unprecedented time!

I would love to hear from you. Designing a “Heart-to-Heart” page implies a two-way conversation, doesn’t it? Please, if any of my stories inspires or even perplexes you, why not email me (see Contact Page)?

Christian love emits from Christian hearts. I know without a doubt that you are presently experiencing trials and concerns such as never before. Words of encouragement and prayers I can offer.

May we turn to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for special strength, guidance and comfort, and may we be united for the common good. Amen.

_____________

The Cross

When you look upon a cross, what do you see? What do you feel?

My Christian counterparts of other denominations may display the bare cross in their places of worship or in their homes. I realized this when I attended a Baptist church for a while many years ago.

“He is Risen!” Christ’s resurrection is portrayed as the pinnacle of the passion. Jesus conquered sin and death, therefore we take down the body of Jesus from the cross and we look to the Salvation he freely offers to all who believe in him.

Why do we Catholics continue to portray Jesus still on the cross?

Let me ask you again, dear brothers and sisters. When you look upon the cross, what do you see? When you look upon the crucifix, what do you feel?

Something I would have attended this Lent is at least one gathering (that our parish offered weekly on Friday evenings)--the Stations of the Cross, if only there had been no pandemic. Because the Church is exercising the virtue of prudence in slowing the spread of the virus in public places, we must forego the Stations and Masses, etc. for a time.

Nonetheless, the doors are open certain days of the week, and we are allowed into the sanctuary for personal reflection and worship. Protocols for safety must be followed, of course.  Last week’s visit afforded my husband and me the entire sanctuary all to ourselves. We knelt to pray in front of the Tabernacle where the Body of Christ is housed.

 This week, I plan to continue my visits to the Stations of the Cross that are featured on fourteen plaques around the walls of the sanctuary. I will bring a World on Fire publication by Bishop Robert Barron entitled, Lenten Gospel Reflections in which he includes reflections for all the Stations of the Cross. I am so thankful that my husband ordered this book online early for himself for Lent and that he thought to buy one for me as well.

If you are not familiar, I think the plaques of the Stations hang on every parish’s walls: seven on one interior wall, and seven on the other interior wall. Carved depictions showing all that our Lord endured for our sakes allow us to join in Christ’s suffering for our sins, just as he is joined to ours.

Yes, sin is conquered by his life, death and resurrection, but reflection on all he suffered must penetrate our hearts. For me, I appreciate more fully the depth of his love and sacrifice when I see what Jesus endured, what he showed us along the way to Calvary...and that his body and blood are precious as we remember his fulfillment of the new covenant between God and us.

Stations of the Cross

I

Jesus is Condemned to Death - Jesus is arrested and brought before Pontius Pilate. Jesus remains silent, although he is innocent.

II

Jesus Takes Up His Cross - Jesus willingly bears the cross as the Lamb of God. His ultimate sacrifice atones for our sins against our God who is a just God.

III

Jesus Falls for the First Time - under the weight of the burden Jesus bore.

IV

Jesus Meets His Blessed Mother - Mary did not cower: she was there along the way of the cross. Imagine the compassion and strength imparted by his mother when he met his mother’s eyes along the difficult journey.

V

Simon of Cyrene Is Made to Help Jesus Bear the Cross - In his travels, did this visitor plan to help a convicted man carry his instrument of torture? No, it was ordered. Yet he did.

VI

Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus - Another post of compassion along the way. Veronica wipes the sweat and blood from his face with her veil. Her brave act instinctively demonstrated mercy.

VII

Jesus Falls for the Second Time - Jesus, weakened by loss of blood and excruciating pain, continues bearing the weight of the cross, giving his all.

VIII

Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem - The followers of Christ who took courage and walked beside him walked in sorrow, openly weeping for Jesus.

IX

Jesus Falls for the Third Time - As was the course of his ministry all-consuming physically and mentally throughout, Jesus must also endure to the very end to reach fulfillment of God’s new covenant. He got up again.

X

Jesus is Stripped of His Garments - To the soldiers who cast lots for Jesus’ clothing, his esteem made complete detachment from those of the world who kept physical vestures but cast out the Christ.

XI

Jesus is Crucified - Our Savior bore the sins of the world as the Lamb of God, willingly, receiving violent torture but offering divine mercy.

XII

Jesus Dies on the Cross - “It is finished.”

XIII

Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross and Laid in the Arms of Mary - As Mother Mary cradled our Messiah at birth, so, too, she cradles our Messiah at his death.

XIV

Jesus is Laid in the Tomb - No ordinary grave, the discovery of the empty tomb on the third day reveals not a break-in by grave robbers, but a supernatural break out, in the Resurrection of our Lord!

_____________

Last Supper

Last year around this time, I was honored to accept my pastor’s invitation to participate in the Holy Thursday evening Mass, in the ceremonial Washing of the Feet.

I accepted, but admitted to Father that I had never gone to Holy Thursday Mass to see how the washing is performed.

Maybe we all know the significance of The Last Supper, but just in case, it sums up this way: Jesus’ last supper (as he celebrated the Jewish Passover) became the first mass. Read any of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) to better understand our Lord’s timing of the fulfillment of his ministry on earth.

The Last Supper is where Jesus instituted the Eucharist and some of the traditions of the Church to carry on after his death and resurrection. His Apostles observed over a period of three years the many signs, teachings and revelations, and they culminated right there that last evening. Still, none could fully comprehend Jesus’ fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets until Pentecost a short while later, when the Holy Spirit was given to them to recall and apply all that Jesus had come to do and to establish.

Washing of the Feet

In Jesus’ time, sandals were worn and people walked through dusty dirt every single day. Their feet would be filthy when they went place to place.

Entering someone’s home, one would remove sandals and the host customarily offers a source of cleaning, at least a wiping cloth or maybe a basin of water.

So, as Jesus prepared for the Passover meal in the Upper Room, knowing full well what was all to happen thereafter, our Lord demonstrated the act of service in washing his Apostles’ feet.

Ceremonial Washing of the Feet

At the appropriate time in the Mass, Father called his appointed adults to the front of the sanctuary and sat us down (six in one session, followed by six children in the second session). We sat in chairs facing the pews.

The priest dressed in full Holy Thursday vestments and was well attended with several altar servers every step of the way. As I think back on this experience, there had to have been lots and lots of rehearsing, with specific tasks assigned to each altar boy.

Father asked each of us in the six seats to take off our (right?) shoe and sock. Then he went down the line, beginning to our right. Father’s top vestment came off and he got down on his knees. His main attending altar server held the pitcher and bowl. Father used a clean white cloth to wash the foot (a clean cloth provided with each and every person).

I can’t recall if he made verbal prayer through any of this, but no verbal direction was given to his servers because they knew exactly what and when to do their specific task.

After he washed the foot, handling with gentleness, a clean white towel was given to him to dry the foot. Again, with gentle care, he dried the foot thoroughly, including between the toes! And then . . . 

 . . . And then, he cradled the washed and dried foot in his hands and bent down to kiss the top of the foot. Finally, he just as gently lowered the foot back to the floor next to our other foot, crept over on his knees to the next person and repeated down the line.

My seat was the fifth in line. By then, I knew what to expect. Still, when this ritual was actually being performed on me, an overwhelming sense of my priest’s loving service to me affected me deeply.

His Humility

My priest, ordained through the succession of Christ’s Apostles two-thousand years ago, showed full servitude in Christ’s established Church on earth. Jesus did not come to be served: the Word Incarnate had come to serve.

Perhaps, dear brothers and sisters, at this time it would serve us well to contemplate the virtue of humility. Even as I contemplate this virtue, I cannot help but notice my own pompousness. Only when our own elevation of self gets acknowledged and we realize we do not deserve to be “up there” or “higher than our Lord,” might a good dose of humility be in order.

_____________

My Brother Steve

Dear Readers,

I have just lost my oldest brother, Steve. I wish to share with you this experience and put aside my Lenten outline for this week and get really personal with you.

When the police knock on your door and you know you have done nothing against the law, it is due to sobering news. Prompted by a wellness check from a home health aid that could not gain access to my brother’s apartment, the officer informed me that my brother passed away. Alone. Apparently of natural causes due to his declining health.


                    Christmas, 1985 - Steve at left                                                    photo by Sally Erickson

Making the calls immediately after was my first order of business--to my three remaining siblings, then the dread of informing his son who is not only my nephew, but also my Godchild. I hadn’t seen him in a very long time, and for that matter, I had not even laid eyes on Steve in about three years.

You see, my brother had become a recluse in his last few years, suffering debilitating pain in lungs and spine. Sure, he got out and about when he had to and often helped a younger brother with rides, paying him regular phone visits or doling out a few bucks here and there. Somehow, Steve was a consummate brother’s keeper in his later years, but this instinct actually stemmed from a difficult patch in childhood.

Steve’s being his brother’s keeper, I think, was both a burden and a blessing. A burden only because of Steve’s own physical and mental limitations. Unconditional loyalty within the core of family--a virtue shared among the five of us siblings--he knew to be an immeasurable blessing.

The band of brothers (plus me) has always been an unshakable bond. I believe we can attribute this back to the deep devotion and conviction of our parents’ Catholic faith. And we had seen first hand just how far the bough can bend in terms of inherent mental illnesses and our dad’s being such a rock through it all.

So let me tell you about my beloved brother, Steve! As I noted in his obituary, he was a ‘trailblazer to the hippie movement.’ It caused such friction between my square dad and his rebel son. We kids had to laugh sometimes at how comical the generation gap played out so often!

My traveling salesman dad, Fred, would be coming home for supper, for instance, and while driving through the center of town, he would see a sprawling cluster of hippies with their long hair and their bellbottoms, halter tops, bandanas--all with cigarettes on their lips or in their hands and just having a groovy time loitering. In the middle of it all was his firstborn son!

Often I would hear him muttering to Mom, “ . . . those hippie-freaks with their long hair and their love’em ‘n’ leave’em ways . . ”  Or his loud plea to "Get a haircut!" falling on deaf ears. To the rest of us kids, we found it amusing in this regular exchange between the exasperated parent and the sometimes hot-headed and always free-spirited son. Every generation goes through it.

As he matured, Steve had responsibilities, one being the pride and joy of his only son from a brief marriage. As time went on, my brother experienced struggles a bit throughout his life, wrestling with his emotional weakness in difficult circumstances.

Mental illness, anxiety in particular, crept into his everyday life and resided with Steve in good times and bad, thereby causing the inability to eke out his own livelihood by the time he was in his mid-forties. He was not alone in this type of disability. Who cannot say they know no-one who suffers from pain or fear within?

In struggles, there is suffering.

Are we not a world of suffering right now? What happens through the act of suffering?

Fear is useless. What you need is trust. From the Book of Luke, Chapter 8 verse 50, I cannot tell you enough how true this is. As much as I focus on the love and goodness in the growth of my faith in God, sometimes even more can be gleaned by learning more about how and why the opposite of love and goodness is out there. Not to judge. Only to learn, gain wisdom in this profoundness.

I have collected several passages of scripture on many topics, especially in the area of wisdom and knowledge. (Call me weird for this being my hobby!)

For example, from the Book of Job regarding wisdom: God understands the way to it, and He alone knows where it dwells...and He said to man, ‘The fear of the LORD--that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding. (NIV)

I can tell you that through my own struggles and suffering, I have come away stronger. It is by these trials of our lives that we may turn to God for strength. If we lean on our faith in the Almighty, reaching out for all the tools and special graces found in our Church, His salvation abounds!

Midwest Theological Forum’s publication Handbook of Prayers helps to shed light on associated virtues gained by overcoming capital sins (in our lives as we live in society) if only we acknowledge and repent. A couple examples: growth in humility is gained by contrite repentance of pride...meekness gained when anger is repented. Transformative contrition.

I won’t go deep here, but I know with all my soul how the graces of baptism and the guiding of the Holy Spirit have led me through valleys of the shadow of death and am a living testament of transformative healing and strengthening in the flames I’ve walked through for the quests of reconciliation.

My dearly departed brother, Stephen Duda, shall be laid to rest only after the period of social distancing is over (by our choosing). But first, I suppose our world must experience some sort of purification process in the present coronavirus plague. I say, “Have Faith, not fear!”

Sorting through Steve’s things has touched me and enlightened me of the many layers of my mysterious brother. As a recluse, he had much time to ponder life. I know deep down that he believed in God after all, having had a few phone conversations with him regarding this.

We feel he was at peace in the end. Just by the things in his apartment, his road to reconciliation with his Maker was evident. He grew in charity, humility, brotherly (and sisterly) love, through pain and suffering. He knew of love between a son and his father, and as a father with his son, both spiritually and physically.

Mercy and forgiveness make good medicine for both the giver and the receiver. In this way, my courageous brother inspires reflection of the true message of Hope that is Easter.

Rest in Peace, Steve.  xxoo



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Coming Home

She clicked her heels three times and repeated what her fairy godmother told her to say. “There’s no place like home . . . there’s no place like home . . . there’s no place like home . . . ”

Recently, out of boredom, it was my prerogative to tune in to the movie, The Wizard of Oz all by my lonesome. I couldn’t help but marvel at the extended metaphor of Dorothy’s long journey through the sometimes wonderful, sometimes frightening adventure of her pursuit for happiness.

What began as a thought of running away from a malevolent neighbor (and thereby forsaking all the good people and nurturers she left behind), the young girl from Kansas dreamt, in her state of concussion, of having escaped the awful Miss Gulch. As Dorothy landed somewhere over the rainbow, the best and the worst of people showed their colors throughout her ruby-footed travels.

Along the way, her companions’ demonstration of a clear mind, a softening of the heart, and the fortitude to be courageous and selfless—these all being great building blocks of character—aided by a higher power, helped her get to where her heart truly belonged. Lastly, her fairy godmother encouraged her to believe!

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, first published in 1901 by author L. Frank Baum, remains a classic tale with a rapt, timeless moral. Not only was Baum a great storyteller, but I would venture to say his value system was deeply rooted in godly morals and virtues.

Most of my adult life, if I think about it, was spent in lost opportunities to take the figurative yellow-brick road back to my roots, back to a right relationship with God.

It wasn’t until my late forties when I finally took that first step. Previously, I would often think to take a forward step, but I honestly did not know where to take that first step. So I didn’t. For many years.

In the height of the economic recession, about ten years ago, I felt a growing need to reconnect with my God. The spiritual tug became more frequent, more pressing. You see, I was depressed. Functional, yes, but swimming against a tide of circumstances growing more difficult as time wore on. I felt emotionally exhausted and greatly burdened by so many cogs barely holding together the train track of my life at the time . . .

Finally, finally, finally, I blurted to God on Christmas morning, “I haven’t any clue, but help me find a Christmas service today!” I looked at my watch and had time to throw myself together. I figured a mass or a service would probably begin around 10 a.m. Looking online had never occurred to me for locations and schedules—I was just winging it.

I thought I might luck out on a historic church steepled on the common only a mile from my house. I didn’t know what kind of church it was except that it was Protestant of some sort, but that was okay. As I came into view of it, there wasn’t a car or a soul around. They apparently had no morning service.

My next thought was to drive to the next town, the city I grew up in and where I had gone to Mass all through my childhood. I didn’t really feel like driving like a madwoman to get there, unsure if there was a mass at 10:00 but I still decided to set out like a fool for it.

But only a mile or two down the road, I noticed a few cars turning onto a side street. “A-Ha!” I exclaimed out loud. I remembered once having gone to a cousin’s wedding at a small, country Catholic church down that street. Apparently, the many cars had an important destination, and by golly, I was going to join them, odd as I felt!

Oh, I can’t convey the cautious joy rising up in my soul. I was actually parking there. I was actually walking up the large concrete stairs. I was greeted by an usher at the door along with the others arriving.

There, I stood at the rear of the sanctuary taking it all in: the pews with real, live Catholics coming to worship, a very tall Christmas tree, more than a dozen poinsettias. against the white backdrop at the front-most wall. Mistletoe hung from each chandelier above the center isle. Then there were the candles, the nativity scene . . . the tabernacle and the altar . . .

I froze for a moment in place drinking it all in. I could feel my heart beginning to smile.

I remember as a child, our family gravitated to the right side of the sanctuary, so that is what I did. I walked slowly up the outer isle and wondered if there was room for me anywhere. Just then, about a third of the way to the front, a glorious sunbeam shone down upon an empty pew. I slipped right in.

Instinctively, I knelt to pray. If only because of the rare Catholic wedding or funeral I attended in the past couple of decades could I remember the Lord’s Prayer. I offered that up, along with heartfelt thanks for getting me to this very place.

Nervous and incredibly rusty was I at the liturgical aspects, but I was not afraid. I participated as best I could with the aid of a missal and felt acutely aware of my voice singing and speaking in unison with the rest. Exultant comfort seemed to drape me.

What I remember most about that special homecoming was my surprising level of emotion by the time the congregation stood up to read the Creed.  Standing with the faithful, reading all those individual facts of all that I grew up believing, and realizing I still believe, began to overwhelm me. I cried. I cried like a little child. God’s child, come home.

My Friend, how about you? Do you know the loving arms of your heavenly Father?

He has sent a Messiah for you as well as for me. Alleluia!